Marvel is under fire for a bizarre bit of casting, but a writer for the upcoming Doctor Strange film has come out against accusations of "whitewashing", saying the decision was made to placate China.
Actress Tilda Swinton, a white British female, was recently cast as the mystical Ancient One, who has traditionally been a male Tibetan.
But C. Robert Cargill, a writer on the superhero film, has suggested that the decision was to avoid upsetting China, which has a troubled history with Tibet.
"There is no other character in Marvel history that is such a cultural landmine," says Cargill in an interview with the pop culture podcast Double Toasted.
Cargill said the character is "a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in [a] very weird political place" and that casting a Tibetan to play the role would have meant acknowledging the existence of Tibet, thus alienating one of the world's fastest-growing film audience.
Since 1950, Tibet has been under Chinese occupation, which claims Tibet has been part of China for over 800 years. Tibetans are denied the right to speak freely and oppose the current Chinese rule.
Asked whether the film should have cast an actor with a different Asian ethnicity, such as Chinese or Japanese, Cargill insisted that would have still been controversial.
"If you are telling me you think it's a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the f**k you're talking about."
Next year, China is set to overtake North America as the world's largest box office. In a country that only allows 34 international movies to screen per year, film studios are taking greater care to avoid alienating the world's most populous nation.
is to be released this year and will be a new addition to the Marvel universe.
star Benedict Cumberbatch plays the titular role as the Sorcerer Supreme, and Swinton plays the superhero's mystical mentor.