Kevin Feige has called claims that Marvel are cowing to China withDoctor Strange "completely erroneous".
Asked byDeadlineto "clear up" the concerns, Feige suggested that the decisiontocast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One - rather than a Tibetan actor - was nothing to do with appeasing China:
"We make all of our decisions on all of our films, and certainly onDoctor Strange, for creative reasons and not political reasons. Thats just always been the case. Ive always believed that it is the films themselves that will cross all borders and really get people to identify with these heroes, and that always comes down to creative and not political reasons. The casting of The Ancient One was a major topic of conversation in the development and the creative process of the story."
It has to be frustrating for Feige to a certain extent. His studio "positively"gender swapped a major role in Doctor Strange and still took heat for who they cast. They cast a black actor as Transylvanian BaronMordo and are attempting to avoid the racial stereotypes of the comics (the same way they did with the Mandarin), and still they're being called out.
That being said, the Tibetan issue is bound to be a loaded one, and the political question is a pressing one. At least Marvel didn't remove Tibet entirely from the film -which they absolutely could have (and needed to if they're seeking to appease China entirely) - which would have ruined the film's marketing entirely.
Feige spoke about the positive moves they've made with the rest of the film:
"We didnt want to play into any of the stereotypes found in the comic books, some of which go back as far as 50 years or more. We felt the idea of gender swapping the role of The Ancient One was exciting. It opened up possibilities, it was a fresh way into this old and very typical storyline. Why not make the wisest bestower of knowledge in the universe to our heroes in the particular film a woman instead of a man? We made changes to some of the other key character in the comic for similar reasons. Specifically,casting Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordoand theres a character named Wong, who is a very big part of comics, and we cast this amazing Asian actor and modernized that role and his talents people will begin to see as materials on the film begin to come out."
But it's not just about deflection: the Marvel supremo conceded that it's an important subject that won't simply be brushed under the carpet:
"The truth is, the conversation thats taking place around this is super-important. Its something we are incredibly mindful of. We cast Tilda out of a desire to subvert stereotypes, not feed into them."
In the interview, Feige seems particularly keen to play down political casting and hiring: he also denied that they hired Ryan Coogler for Black Panther simply because of his ethnicity. But in that respect, perhaps, it's the right move, even if it's not necessarily entirely right to say so publicly without acknowledging that Coogler's talent played just as big a part in the hire.
Inevitably though, the Doctor Strange/China question won't go away unless Marvel digitally add some Free Tibet signs into their movies. It's been picked up by the kind of fervent activists who won't accept any less.