Amid Concerns of Orientalism, Benedict Wong Says His Doctor Strange Character Won’t Be a ‘Tea-Making Manservant’

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Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images

Doctor Strange's journey from comics to screen has been a fraught one. From the fairly textbook whitewashing of casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One (she's Celtic, we swear!) to more generalized anxiety about the property's penchant toward Orientalism, the Marvel movie has proved frustrating, seemingly squandering the opportunity for decent Asian representation onscreen. And so, Benedict Wong's casting as Wong, Doctor Strange's sidekick and, in the comics, a martial-arts master, drew similar early skepticism about the trope of a mystic, martial-arts-practicing Asian sidekick there to serve a white lead. Now, Wong, the movie's most prominent Asian actor, is attempting to allay fears, promising that the character won't lean into the cringe-worthiest aspects of the source material. Wong told Den of Geek: "I’m certainly not going to be the tea-making manservant. We’re heading in a different direction. He’s more of a drill sergeant." He further explained the move away from the Wong of the comics, saying, "There isn’t any martial arts for Wong in Doctor Strange actually, he’s more of a drill sergeant to Kamar-Taj. He’s one of the masters of sorcery." Of course, there's no guarantee that these changes will steer the character of Wong away from due criticism. Just as an Asian actor playing a martial-arts expert isn't necessarily a damaging stereotype — were the character allowed real consideration and specificity — the absence of such trappings alone does not good representation make.