Marvel just dropped the first teaser trailer for Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, who journeys to mystical Asia to learn Mystical Asian Stuff. The trailer also gives us our first glimpse of Tilda Swinton as the Sorcerer Supreme’s mystical mentor, The Ancient One.
Racebent! In typical Hollywood fashion. Many of us were wondering how the movie would handle whitest actress Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, who has been traditionally depicted in the comic books as an old-ass mystical Asian man. Now we have our answer: she is bald.
I wouldn’t call this is straight-up yellowface, but it appears they’re going for the next best thing.
Based on her brief scenes in the trailer, Swinton bears a strong resemblance to David Carradine in the Shaolin monastery flashback sequences from Kung Fu — with a touch of Persis Khambatta from Star Trek: The Motion Picture — dropped into one of those training programs from The Matrix.
The trailer ends with Strange begging The Ancient One to instruct him in the Mystical Asian Stuff. “Teach me,” he pleads. As far as I can tell, the Mystical Asian Stuff includes out-of-body karate (hey, that rhymes), in which you can hit someone so hard, your body farts out a glowing version of yourself.
The Mystical Asian Stuff also seems to involve the ability to bend and fold entire blocks of skyscrapers, which would be really impressive if we all hadn’t already seen two-plus hours of that happening in Inception.
Look, as we’ve noted before, yes, the origins of Doctor Strange are steeped in a lot of old-school exotic, Orientalist stereotypes. Washing out the Asian-ness of The Ancient One appears to be an attempt to sidestep some of the character’s more racist undertones for a contemporary audience.
But putting a bald white lady in the role doesn’t fix much. It’s still whitewashing. Yes, it’s a two-minute trailer that doesn’t reveal a whole lot, but it reveals enough.
Plot summary: Bearded White Guy journeys to Asia, where a bald white lady teaches him Mystical Asian Stuff. White Guy masters said Mystical Asian Stuff. Then White Guy uses the Mystical Asian Stuff to fight bad guys.
Doctor Strange opens in theaters on November 4.
Phil Yu is the founder, editor, and primary blogger behind Angry Asian Man, the web’s foremost destination for all things Asian American. He also co-hosts the YouTube series Angry Asian America for ISAtv.