Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige might have just stuck his foot in his mouth as he delves further and further into identity politics and critical race theory when it comes to casting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In a recent interview with Men’s Health about the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings film, Feige discussed the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange.
Men’s Health’s writer Evan Romano claims Feige expressed regret when he stated, “We thought we were being so smart, and so cutting-edge” in reference to Swinton’s casting.
Feige went on to say, “We’re not going to do the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man. But it was a wake-up call to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, is there any other way to figure it out? Is there any other way to both not fall into the cliché and cast an Asian actor?’ And the answer to that, of course, is yes.”
This is in direct contrast to what Doctor Strange writer Robert Cargill admitted about the casting.
Cargill explained, “The thing about the Ancient One is it is Marvel’s Kobayashi Maru. There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine, that is absolutely unwinnable.”
He went on, “I’ve been reading a bunch of people talking about it and the really frustrating thing about it this week is that most of the people who have thoughts on it haven’t thought it all the way through and they go, ‘Why didn’t they just do this?’ And it’s like, I could tell you why.”
“I could tell you why every single decision that involves the Ancient One is a bad one, and just like the Kobayashi Maru, it all comes down on which way you’re willing to lose,” says Cargill.
He went on to detail that if Marvel recognized the Ancient One as being from Tibet as he is in the comics, you risk alienating China.
Cargill explained, “The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that’s bulls**t.”
He elaborated, “And risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.”
Cargill even discussed the idea of potentially casting Michelle Yeoh, “If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet…The thing that makes me pull my hair out is, some people are like, ‘Why not cast Michelle Yeoh?’ Well, first of all Michelle Yeoh is awesome. I would love to make a film with Michelle Yeoh. If you are telling me that you think it’s a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the f**k you’re talking about.”
Cargill concluded, “The levels of cultural sensitivity around this thing is that everybody is staking out their one particular place and not realizing that every single thing here is a losing proposition. We could pretend the Ancient One doesn’t exist and then we are just eradicating one of the main characters from the story to just not deal with race.”
That doesn’t sound like Marvel thinking they were smart and being cutting edge, but rather they were trying to placate the Chinese people and the communist government. For that matter a gender-swap and race swap is not cutting edge. It’s the opposite, it’s a dull blade because it’s the most boring thing out of all of Hollywood’s tricks.
Regardless, it’s clear that Feige is telling a different story than Cargill and he might have just got caught with his foot in his mouth.
However, like the race and gender swapping of the Ancient One, this might be Feige trying to sell Shang-Chi to both North American and Chinese audiences following a report that Chinese audiences are less than enthusiastic about the film and that the communist government might actually ban the film from entering the country.
That report from Variety detailed that China’s CCTV6 China Movie Channel did not air release dates for Shang-Chi and Eternals despite them being two of Marvel’s next three films. They did release dates for eight other Marvel films though.
Not only that but Chinese users have called on authorities to ban the film. One user took issue with the introduction of Wenwu, who reads very much like the original comic book father of Shang-Chi, Fu-Manchu.
They wrote, “So you change the name and it’s not Fu Manchu anymore? The Mandarin is inherently a character that blackens the image of the Chinese people.”
“I hope China Film and the [censorship authorities] won’t be bought out by this; this kind of film is not worthy of coming to China to make money off us while calling us fools,” the user added.
In fact, Feige all but makes it clear in the interview with Men’s Health that he’s trying to sell the movie to China and North America at the same time.
He tells the magazine, “It’s about having a foot in both worlds. In the North American world and in China. And Simu fits that quite well.”
What do you make of Feige’s comments? Do you think he got caught with his foot in his mouth?