An Open Letter to Marvel
Congrats. Unsurprisingly, your new film, Doctor Strange, is great. I *love* this movie. I love its trippy art style, its classic Marvel humor, and its heart. You also somehow managed not to create a terribly-written villain (as you usually do), and your movie has already made over $500 MILLION. Obviously, that’s a lot of money.
Oh and I loved your actors, too. Well, most of them.
I thought your choice last year to cast Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, a character known in the respected Marvel Comics to be an old male Tibetan monk, was interesting at first, and it’s no surprise that Mrs. Swinton is a phenomenal actress. In fact, she was phenomenal in this very movie. But many people were angry, confused, and shocked. Tilda Swinton is as far from an old male Tibetan monk as you are from DC.
Seven months ago you released a statement trying to defend yourself.
Here’s how I break it down to my friends: one, you threw money at yourselves. No surprise. Every business does that. Tilda Swinton scared me to death as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia and is enormously talented.
Second, by essentially sweeping your problem of accidentally creating a racist stereotypical Ancient One and offending China under the rug, you’ve created a larger problem by playing into Hollywood white washing and making her Celtic rather than Tibetan. You have denied another role, another job opportunity, to Asian actors. This is not the first time this has happened, and I am tired of feeling pushed to the side to seemingly appease your audience.
Third, and most importantly, you lied to me.
I see no “strong record of diversity” and “regular departure from stereotypes” when I see your ratio of three white Chris's for every one black Nick Fury. For every female superhero there are two genius playboy billionaire philanthropists. When I look at cast photos from your previous movies, I often see two colors. I, an Asian-American teenage woman, can’t see myself and I am part of one of your key demographics.
This was where my anger, confusion, and shock stemmed from, but I also felt hurt. Disappointed. Excluded. Grant Gustin, who plays The Flash on CW, said recently, “Story telling in general will remain an escape from every day life,” and I did not expect you, my lifeboat, to cast me off, especially now. I expected more and better, and now after watching the movie I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Doctor Strange had quickly become one of my favorite Marvel movies but I could not ignore the struggles, problems, and lies involved within its production. Additionally, all my fellow Marvel-loving friends have written this off, but myself and my Asian-American friends are still torn up about this. And this divide that’s been caused probably hurts me more.
Earlier this month, I felt torn, too. I felt hurt about America as a nation, and how we are devolving into a cycle of violence and hate with a completely new, stronger, and rawer sense of viciousness with a seemingly bleak view on how we can find a solution. Right now, I’m ashamed of our country, and I feel that way towards you, too.
And right now, all I can think of is to ask, what happens now? What does this movie mean for our representation? How will representation form under Trump’s presidency? Moreover, how does this presidency reflect us as a nation?
Your whitewashing has already dealt a major blow to diversity and visibility, according to Variety, because of its inevitable success. And with Trump, that blow might be a lot larger. But I refuse to be intimidated by our circumstances. If anything, these situations have motivated me to make a change.
I’ve already told people to go see this movie. In fact, I’ve already seen it twice. And I might watch it a third time as well. But when I tell people to watch this movie, I’m going to tell them about what has happened behind the scenes. I want people to watch this movie with a greater knowledge of Asian issues, and create a chain reaction of awareness.
I will acknowledge it: you possibly couldn’t have won anyone over with this character. If you created a racist Asian stereotype, that might have offended people even more. But instead you created a complex, substantive character that an Asian woman could have desperately benefited from. I just don’t want you to lie to me, or your millions of fans, again. I hope what has happened can help foster a discussion not just on your end, but everywhere else too.
We as a country should move forward, too, to learn from our mistakes and unite in love. We need to achieve a greater understanding of each other in order to overcome the lies and hatred that the country seems to be swirling down into. And in a time where you are the hero of millions of people all around the globe, I hope you do the same.