A topic that has dogged the upcoming Marvel film Doctor Strange since the casting was first announced (indeed, even before the casting was announced) was the potential use (or non-use) of the Asian characters from the 1960’s vintage comic stories that were the primary source material for the new movie. Director Scott Derrickson has stressed that he wanted to avoid the negative racial stereotypes that were a part of those early stories, particularly in the case of Wong (portrayed in the film by actor Benedict Wong) who, often, was the worst type of Asian racial stereotype, often little more than Strange’s butler or servant.
Derrickson, who also served as one of the writers of the script, knew he had two Asian stereotypes to deal with from those early tales, and, as he noted when talking to Entertainment Weekly, was concerned about them both.
My first intention, coming in to do Doctor Strange, was not to include Wong at all. I had two characters, Wong and the Ancient One, both of whom in the comics were pretty bad racial stereotypes. To avoid the stereotypical ‘magical Asian,’ we cast Tilda Swinton [as the Ancient One]. Having done that, having eliminated one of the Asian roles from the source material, I had to bring Wong back in. But, unlike the Ancient One, Wong could be totally reinvented.
What we did with him was essentially invert the stereotypes from the comics. In the comics, he’s a martial arts-kung fu-sidekick-manservant. In this version, instead of a manservant, he’s a master sorcerer and, instead of a sidekick, he’s Strange’s intellectual mentor, instead of just a kung fu fighter he is kind of like a drill sergeant over this compound (the Ancient One’s Nepal base, Kamar-Taj) and the guardian of the books, the library of this place, where the sorcerers train. It was really fun to build from the comics a new character that was an inversion of what was dated and stereotypical about the character. Then Benedict Wong came in and brought an entirely new dimension to that character. He’s just terrific in the movie.
Benedict Wong has largely echoed Derrickson’s assertion about his character, especially when compared to how the character was portrayed during the 1960’s and 70’s.
I was very pleased that they had gone in that sort of direction. What we’re doing is a modern update. He’s a master of sorcery in his own right. He is the protector of these books of special incantations at Kamar-Taj. He’s not your average librarian. He’s sometimes the drill sergeant and he’s there to kind of put Strange in check, really. I think it’s a really positive step that this character is fighting alongside Strange.
The MCU films have striven to address the stereotyping rampant in comics (and popular culture) and this effort often reflects the difficulty in remaining faithful to the original source material that fans hold dear, and at the same time appealing to modern sensibilities. Reinventing Wong and creating an ally for the titular character instead of a servant may have addressed one of the worst offenders from the Silver Age of comics (though Luke Cage fans may likely disagree, with good reason). What are your thoughts on addressing this, at times, very sensitive issue? Sound off below!
Doctor Strange will hit the big screen on November 4th.