Years ago, before the release of Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios jumped headfirst into a whitewashing controversy when it announced that Tilda Swinton would be playing mysterious magical master The Ancient One, a move that Marvel eventually confirmed was a conscious decision, presumably to avoid promoting racist stereotypes. The Ancient One is a Tibetan man in the comics, making him part of a shamefully long tradition of mystical Asian stereotypes in Western fiction, so Marvel’s idea to get around that was to go in a completely different direction and explain that “The Ancient One” is actually a title that’s passed down from person to person. Still, that didn’t get around the fact that Marvel was whitewashing a traditionally Asian character, which Western fiction has also been doing for a long time, and that aspect of the controversy followed Doctor Strange even after its release—like when Margaret Cho revealed that Swinton had personally reached out to ask her why people were upset about the role, with Cho taking some offense at the idea that she was supposed to speak for all Asian people.
Now, speaking with Men’s Health, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige has conceded for the first time that casting Tilda Swinton was a mistake. He says they really wanted to avoid the stereotype of the “wizened, old, wise Asian man,” but the backlash was a “wake-up call” that made him realize they could’ve found another way to “both not fall into the cliché and cast an Asian actor.” It’s worth pointing out, at the risk of being cynical, that this interview was given in the lead-up to the release of Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, Marvel Studios’ first movie with a primarily Asian cast, so now is the most opportune time for Feige to walk back the Swinton decision.
Feige generally seems like a genuine guy, so it’s not necessarily fair to suggest that he’s just saying this now because he wants people to see Shang-Chi, but he does have a history of not realizing that certain moves to promote inclusivity and representation in his movies would be a good idea until people really push him on them. He spent years talking about how much he wanted to make Black Widow and Captain Marvel movies before actually doing it, and he still hasn’t gotten around to confirming the all-female team-up movie that Tessa Thompson told him to make in 2017. Basically, it seems like the best way to convince Feige to keep making Marvel movies more diverse is to keep yelling at him about it.