By Kevin M. Brettauer

Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange (named, no doubt, for the great film star Vincent Price, whom he physically resembles) was created by Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man, and first appeared in Strange Tales #110. Much like Marvel’s original take on Thor, Strange had to be humbled to become a hero, and some of his critics, both within the Marvel Universe and outside of it, would argue that, much like Iron Man, he’s done far more ill than good for the people he’s supposed to be protecting. After a car accident renders his ability to perform neurosurgery all but useless, he seeks out alternative methods to restore his hands. However, the egotistical, brash young surgeon finds much more than he could have ever bargained for. Trained by the Ancient One, a wise Himalayan sorcerer, in magic, Doctor Strange discovers the world of mysticism that exists on the peripheral of the normal world. Eventually, the Ancient One passes over the promising student Karl Mordo, and grants Strange the once-a-generation title of Master of the Mystic Arts. From thereon out, he lives a life of solitude in a mansion in the East Village of New York City, with only his manservant Wong for company. Barely living in the world of superheroes, characters like Spider-Man, Bruce Banner and others would come to home when they had no other option, when nothing else made sense, and would only do so as a last resort. Some members of the superhero community have even dismissed him entirely as a joke.

However, the character has always struck a chord with fans, even though he’s gone through long intervals without an ongoing solo series or even membership in a team book. His Silver Surfer-like cult favoritism, then, is what has seen the character last through the decades, and finally arrive in theatres in the new Marvel Studios production Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel McAdams.

And that’s where the other shoe drops.

Marvel Studios executive Kevin Feige has always maintained that the studio casts actors and actresses who best fit the part, regardless of ethnicity. Vondie Curtis-Hall’s transcendent performance as Ben Urich in the first season of Daredevil is testament to this. So is Carrie Anne-Moss’s work on Jessica Jones and Daredevil as Jeri Hogarth, based on the comics’ male – and heterosexual – Jaryn Hogarth. Countless other examples of “colorblind” casting by the studio include, amongst over a dozen others, Maximiliano Hernandez as Jasper Sitwell, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Elodie Yung as Elektra and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. However, the studio is still accused of constant white-washing, most notably from some of the louder corners of the Internet.

Of course, casting a white actor as the traditionally Eastern character of The Ancient One was always going to be deemed “problematic” by some. However, nobody ever discusses how The Ancient One, if portrayed by an Asian male actor, would actually be an example of hurtful representation. Community creator Dan Harmon, who worked on the film’s script, once had the character of Chang (Ken Jeong) mercilessly mock the “wise, inscrutable man” stereotype that has pervaded Western culture.

And make no mistake, that’s the Ancient One’s entire character. So why play into a hurtful stereotype?

Enter London-born actress Tilda Swinton.

Swinton plays the film’s version of the Ancient One as a Celtic mystic, as if David Bowie had played Rasputin instead of Tesla. This makes her the first female mentor to a title character in the history of superhero films. Shouldn’t we be celebrating that instead of bemoaning how Marvel picked the best actor for the role instead of perpetuating a hurtful stereotype that would have landed them in even hotter water?

Or we could be talking about how, before director Scott Derrickson came onboard, the character of Wong (played in the film by actor Benedict Wong) had been erased from the script. Realizing the need for Strange to have an equal partner (in fact, actor Wong was announced to appear in the next Avengers feature before Benedict Cumberbatch was confirmed for that film), Wong was rewritten into the story not as his Alfred, but as a promising sorcerer on par with Strange … and with Karl Mordo.

Karl Mordo. We should talk about Karl Mordo. Karl Mordo who, in the comics, has been a dead-ringer for folks like Jared Harris, Al Pacino, Clancy Brown and Rufus Sewell. Karl Mordo, who fans have suggested in the past be played by Christian Bale or Daniel Day-Lewis – you know, the whitest of white people. Karl Mordo, who Derrickson claims has a multi-film arc set up for him that is more layered and emotional than the source material, and is virtually Shakespearean in terms of his journey. Karl Mordo, played in the film by the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of films like 12 Years a Slave, The Martian and Dirty Pretty Things.

What we, as fans and a culture, should be focusing on is this: the Ancient One may be white on screen, yes. Could the Ancient One have been played by a non-white actor? Absolutely. Would that actor have had to be a man? No. Will Tilda Swinton empower young women of all ethnicities, letting them know that they, too, can serve as mentors and guiding forces to problematic men like Stephen Strange? You bet. And that’s what matters. But do you know what else we should be focusing on? How Wong has become an equal of Doctor Strange’s, and not his stereotypical foreign butler. How Karl Mordo is now a person of color who has been passed over for his dream job by a rich white man, and how that should resonate with the world now more than ever. And we should be focusing on how maybe, just maybe, the casting of Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor went completely unnoticed, because Tilda Swinton was all anyone could focus on.

And how, by having the world focus on Swinton’s whiteness instead of her gender, or the casting of Ejiofor or the changes to Wong’s character, Marvel Studios have actually pulled off their greatest sleight of hand: making Doctor Strange inhabit a far more diverse, representative world than anyone actually realized.