Marvel's Kevin Feige Reflects on Whitewashing Controversy of Doctor Strange's Ancient One

By Tom Drew Posted:
Doctor Strange, Kevin Feige, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is Marvel Studios' next big push for diversity in its blockbuster franchise, bringing together an all-star cast and crew of majorly Asian voices.

Despite this, the MCU flick and Eternals may not be headed to release in China, which may have been caused by comments from Eternals director Chloé Zhao. In response, Shang-Chi's leading star Simu Liu had a few words to say regarding negative comments aimed towards the film.

The film is a massive stride for Asian representation in the MCU, especially considering the franchise's less-than-savory history regarding the matter. Ben Kingsley was cast as The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 and Tilda Swinton was brought on as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, both of which received their fair share of criticism for whitewashing characters who were originally of Asian descent in the comics.

The Head of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige has now addressed these criticisms in addition to how Shang-Chi manages to avoid this...


Tilda Swinton Doctor Strange Ancient One

In an interview with Men's Health, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige discussed the MCU's previous instances of whitewashing Asian characters.

Reflecting on Tilda Swinton's casting as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, Feige revealed that the studio initially believed that they were being "so smart and so cutting-edge" by avoiding Asian stereotypes. However, Kevin Feige soon realized that this was not the only option:

"We thought we were being so smart and so cutting-edge...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.”

The Marvel Studios head noted that the company has a long list of “great characters who could make great movies regardless of how famous they were.” Shang-Chi was one of those characters, which Feige considered "was always a really, really great story” despite the stereotypes present in the original comics.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Shang-Chi will sidestep these clichés by giving the character a new origin, enabled by the fact that the character is relatively obscure. Kevin Feige mentioned that this new tale will explore how Shang-Chi exists between two worlds "in the North American world and in China:"

“It’s about having a foot in both the North American world and in China. And Simu fits that quite well.”


While the MCU has made a few missteps with its castings in the past, it very much seems that Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have learned from their previous errors going into future films.

It is reassuring that Feige owned up to these issues directly and seems to be putting diversity at the forefront of the MCU's plans going forward. This has even extended to Disney hiring Marya Bangee as a new executive specifically focused on cultural representation, following Bangee's firm consulting on Ms. Marvel.

It seems as though Shang-Chi's story will move away from the stereotypes present in the original comics by making its narrative hyperfocused on the Asian-American experience. The struggle between two nations, homes, and identities will certainly make for an interesting struggle for Shang-Chi to overcome and allow the film to rewrite the character's history in a dynamic and engaging way.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits theaters worldwide on September 3, 2021.

Release Date
September 03, 2021
- About The Author: Tom Drew
Tom Drew is the Executive Editor at The Direct. Tom writes for The Direct's Marvel, Star Wars, and DC branches while specializing in all things movies, from blockbuster to indie darlings.