Omission of Tibet in ‘Doctor Strange’ Pays Off With November China Release

A film adaptation of the Marvel comic has been criticized for “whitewashing” a Tibetan character, but the change may have garnered the film a release date during a month already crowded with foreign film debuts. 

Marvel’s decision to cast British actress Tilda Swinton as “the Ancient One” in the upcoming blockbuster Doctor Strange (奇异博士) looks set to pay off, with the film just landing a November 4, day and date release in China, simultaneous with its North American debut.

The film joins what looks to be a crowded month, with the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (神奇动物在哪里), Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (比利·林恩的中场战事), and veteran Chinese director Feng Xiaogang’s I Am Not Madame Bovary (我不是潘金莲) also screening in November.

Local media reports emphasized the superhero film starring Benedict Cumberbatch will screen in China “without a single cut” from the country’s censors. The film will screen in 3D, IMAX 3D, and China Film Giant Screen formats.

Cumberbatch, popular with local fans for his role as TV’s Sherlock will be joining director Scott Derrickson and fellow Briton Tilda Swinton in Shanghai on October 16 to promote the film, according to a post on Marvel’s official Weibo account sent out on Monday,

In the original Marvel comics, Swinton’s character, the Ancient One, is portrayed as a mystical male Tibetan mentor for Cumberbatch’s character Stephen Strange. But in the upcoming film, the character’s ethnicity has been changed to Celtic and gender to a woman, prompting some to accuse Marvel of “whitewashing” the character.

Protests gained steam earlier this year when Doctor Strange screenwriter C Robert Cargill argued on the Double Toasted Podcast that Tilda Swinton was cast partly as a political move to prevent the Chinese government from banning the film.

Cargill later said in an email to The New York Times that his remarks on the podcast did not represent Marvel.

The official announcement did not come as a surprise to fans and industry watchers in China, with teasers and trailers dripping out since as early as April this year. The company’s official Weibo account has been steadily building buzz for the film over the past few weeks.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, will be released on November 11 and 18, respectively.

The latter film will go head-to-head with Feng’s I Am Not Madame Bovary, which was originally meant to be released on September 30 but was abruptly and mysteriously rescheduled at the last minute. Rumors have swirled, even on state-controlled media, that the film had failed to get censorship approval.

November could become even more crowded with talk of Disney’s Moana (海洋奇缘), Lionsgate’s Deepwater Horizon (深海浩劫), and their Mel Gibson-directed war epic Hacksaw Ridge (血战钢锯岭) also getting released in China, the onslaught of foreign fare no doubt connected to official’s aim to bolster sagging annual box office growth figures.