What Tilda Swinton's Casting Means for Marvel

Is Marvel more progressive than it looks?

Tilda Swinton has officially joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s one of the most mind-boggling casting announcements of all time.

In case you’re not familiar with her work, Swinton is an acting powerhouse whose typical contract stipulates that she will only appear if she can subvert a minimum of four stereotypes per movie. She’s played every type of role imaginable and stamped them with her own brand of chameleonic artistry. From small, low-budget indies to big-budget spectacles — there’s pretty much no one like her working in Hollywood today.

Marvel Studios, on the other hand, is known for making big, palatable blockbusters and even bigger piles of cash. The studio’s template for success has seen it shrug off talented filmmakers like Edgar Wright, Patty Jenkins and Ava DuVernay. It isn’t aiming for social inclusion, catering to groups who are underrepresented in film, or breaking the mould; it just wants to replicate its winning formula. Which makes Swinton’s appointment all the more intriguing.

In a recent interview, the actress officially confirmed that she would be playing The Ancient One in Doctor Strange. The comic book version of the character is an elderly Asian male; Swinton is none of these things. Naturally, the dedicated Marvel lot hit the web, striking out against her casting as it defies the character’s origin, ruined their childhood, was an affront to Ancient Ones everywhere, and other such nonsense. However, choosing to cast her could suggest one of two things.

1. Marvel is embracing change

Scott Derrickson is directing the movie. You know, the guy who did Sinister and Deliver Us from Evil. He’s a horror man. Following the train of logic that a horror director is likely a wise choice to direct a supernatural, horror-tinged Marvel movie, maybe the studio has decided to hell with it — let’s make a genre film. In that case, this could be considered another gamble (like Guardians of the Galaxy but more extreme). Therefore, why not switch out all of the traditional aspects of the property for something different that involves Tilda Swinton in a gender-swapped, race-swapped role?

2. Swinton Just Bein’ Swinton

But hey, who are we kidding? Here’s the more likely scenario. If you’ve watched Swinton in action then you are aware of her phenomenal acting prowess. We’re not talking about her ability to shout and wag a finger in someone’s face while delivering an Oscar-worthy monologue. We’re talking real embodiment of character. Many stars seemingly portray variations of themselves, but Swinton utterly submerges herself in roles. She’s an actress whose true personality is unknown to the public. Take a look at her from one movie to the next. She’s practically unrecognisable.

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