The Ancient One is… Celtic?

Marvel, seemingly responding to critics about casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, released the background for the character. Saying that this embodiment is Celtic. Well here’s the statement:

Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic. We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.

Which I suppose they’re saying she was Celtic and chosen as the Ancient One. (It’s an odd statement, since I don’t really know of anyone talking about people as Celtic since, say, the dark ages) Because if they weren’t saying that she’s just Celtic, where are the reflections of her Celtic culture? Why are all these non-Asian people appropriating a culture by running around in Asian inspired clothing and makeup? And why are we saying she’s Celtic when people stopped referring to them as Celts something like 1000 years ago? (Though I suppose, that would indeed, make her ancient)

Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE L to R: The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) Photo Credit: Film Frame  ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

All this does is raise more questions. One of the criticisms about Doctor Strange (the character) and Danny Rand/Iron Fist is that their stories make white people exceptional using Asian traditions. That somehow these men (and women) are somehow more worthy of picking up these mantels of exceptional strength than Asian people. And when people asked for those to be cast with an Asian person, fans said… “but, they were always white.” But if you take a role originally written as an Asian man and cast it with a white woman, Marvel says… DIVERSITY!

As a woman of color, it’s hard to regularly have to “settle” for a white woman being considered diverse. I’m not going to argue that there still isn’t a disparity with women being portrayed equally in film – but a white woman is literally the shortest path to diversity. Shorter than casting Asian men, apparently. And frankly, it isn’t enough anymore.

As much as I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while yes, they’ve adapted the comics to be a bit more diverse (using the Ultimate Nick Fury is the main example)… they’ve failed in so many ways. We’re into Phase 3, and there still hasn’t been a female led movie. I’m can’t count Captain Marvel until it’s actually released – since they’ve pushed it back more than once. They’ve failed to add minority heroes beyond Rhodey, Sam Wilson and T’challa (though Black Panther having his own movie is a win). (I’m still unsure if IM3’s treatment of The Mandarin was a good thing- while they exposed how racist the depiction was, they took away the opportunity to tear down the stereotypical portrayal without making him a white man)

They’ve failed to treat their female characters with respect. In Ant-Man, the entire storyline revolved around Hope being sidelined (despite being the most qualified) so that Scott could become Ant-Man. In Age of Ultron, Whedon ignored any character building done in Winter Soldier with Black Widow, wiping out all her complexity in the process. (Though I admit, he was an equal opportunity offender and did the same with every single Avenger) Not only that, but they managed to adjust Wanda & Pietro’s origin to make it so they were working with HYDRA – which to people who weren’t familiar with the comic arc this version of the characters were adapted from, made it seem like two Jewish kids were working with Nazis.

And on the TV front, while Agent Carter did improve its diversity – I noticed that despite this last season taking place in LA, there were literally only two Hispanic characters. One of which was a secretary with no dialogue. (The other was working with the bad guys)

This statement about the Ancient One bothers me. It isn’t an explanation – it sounds like they’re covering their asses while high-fiving themselves for keeping the status quo disguised as diversity. It only made me ask more questions, mostly wondering what the hell they consider to be diverse about this?

They might have the answers for all this in the movie, but I’m not going to see it. Much as I appreciate the steps forward that Marvel has taken – I can’t see this movie as anything more than a giant step backwards. I’m disappointed that nobody realized what a bad idea any of this was, given the level of criticism raised when they announced the project in the first place.

To steal a phrase from a Marvel character that Sony has the rights to – “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Sure, these are movies and shows about superheroes. But they’ve used them to criticize politics (Winter Soldier), to mention PTSD (Winter Soldier and IM3) to examine what recovering from Trauma is like for those who have been sexually assaulted (Jessica Jones), to discuss the shortcomings of the legal system (DareDevil). They’ve given careers to unknown white actors. Why not give the chance to actors of color? Why not prove a point and say that they can rewrite their own history because we know better now?

(And if you’re wondering if I’m going to pass on Iron Fist, the answer is probably going to be yes. I don’t have much hopes for that one, either)

Tagged with: ,