White Washing and the Global Movie Market

Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One

A small tidbit of a much larger question about making movies

So after seeing the trailer for Dr. Strange, I was interested in WHY Marvel decided to cast Tilda Swinton instead of a Tibetan actor to play The Ancient One in Dr. Strange. I wanted to know why they are changing the location from Tibet in the film as well. The Ancient One has had the same origins in the comics for decades so WHY would Marvel change that?

First, I searched for an article about Tilda Swinton and Kevin Feige’s choice to cast here, which you can read here if you are so inclined. I honestly don’t care about the gender bent aspect of it. I think men and women should be able to play any part regardless of gender. But that’s a topic for another day.

In further investigation into why they wouldn’t cast a Tibetan actor I came across this document. It is a research report on the Chinese Movie Market and the regulations on how to have a movie be released in China. (which is arguably going to be the biggest market for movies in the world)

Here is the gist of what I discovered from looking into this in depth. If Marvel were to cast Tibetan man to play The Ancient One, the movie would be banned in China. If the movie was set in Tibet, the movie would be banned in China. There is a chance that the Chinese government would actually ban Disney, the parent company of marvel, from releasing any films in China for an undetermined length of time. If you are unsure as to why this matters, you can read about the Tibet-China conflict here.

In the research document, they actual sight movies that were released that had the studio banned for a period of time. Brad Pitt was even banned from entering China for over TEN YEARS because of the movie Seven Years in Tibet. The Chinese government takes these things really seriously. Do you all actually think Marvel would risk having the studio banned from having movies released in the soon to be largest movie market in the world?

Another example I had been looking into is the portrayal of Mandarin in Iron Man 3. That character is a super-villain and in the Chinese movie market, films are not allowed to portray an Asian man or woman as a in a bad light. They actually cannot have anything showing China in a ‘villainous’ way. If a movie has a small bit part being played by an Asian actor being killed by an American or other person from another culture, it has to be cut from the movie or changed when it’s screened in China. The government in China has gigantic rules about censorship and that is something we don’t have here so sometimes, it’s hard to understand.

Listen, all this information does not make white washing an Asian character right. It absolutely does not make it right. Please understand me when I say, this doesn’t mend the simple implication of erasing the character’s origin. But this is a legitimate thing that is happening in Hollywood for movies that are going into the Global movie market.

Honestly, the document I linked is REALLY interesting and really well researched. There are two full pages of sources at the bottom of the research paper, if you are looking for more information on this.

But in laments terms, this is why large blockbuster movies in the global market:“For a type of movie, particularly the global blockbusters, they are not going to go and make something that the Chinese would reject for social or political reasons. That is already a truism.

I encourage people to understand that it’s fine to be upset about changing the race of this particular character, but it is also important to understand that this is an issue that Marvel cannot simply fix unless they are willing to risk having Marvel studios and potentially Disney studios banned from showing films in China. There would also be a risk to any actor that appeared in the movie where they would be banned from entering China. Until those censorship rules change, this is going to keep happening in blockbusters.


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