Marvel Studios has issued a statement regarding the choice of Tilda Swinton to play the Ancient One in the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring superhero movie Doctor Strange (out Nov. 4).
In the original Marvel comics, this powerful sorcerer is usually depicted as an elderly, Tibet-dwelling Asian man. In director Scott Derrickson’s film version, however, Swinton’s character is a white, androgynous figure who lives in Kathmandu, Nepal. Controversy over the casting of Swinton followed the release of a Doctor Strange teaser trailer two weeks ago, and Swinton’s casting – along with an image of Scarlett Johansson in the big-screen adaptation of manga franchise Ghost in the Shell – fueled criticism of Hollywood casting white actors in non-Caucasian roles.
Marvel’s statement, obtained by PEOPLE, reconfirms that Swinton is not playing an Asian character, but rather one whose background is Celtic.
“Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] to life,” the statement reads. “The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic.”
The statement continues: “We are very proud to have the enormously talented Tilda Swinton portray this unique and complex character alongside our richly diverse cast.”
Cumberbatch and Swinton’s Doctor Strange costars include Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
You can see the trailer for Doctor Strange trailer above.