Doctor Orientalism: Marvel’s History of Anti-Asian Narratives

While watching Avengers: Infinity War, there was a specific moment where Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme and protector of the time stone, duplicates himself. His many arms stretch out of his body like a hypnotic spider, and he proceeds to multiply to throw Thanos off guard in the middle of a tense battle. The audience erupted in applause, but I couldn’t help but feel unnerved at the display of blatant cultural appropriation. What could have been a triumphant moment of pride for me, had Strange been played by an Asian actor, was instead one of alienation. So here I am, with the goal to talk about this issue head-on. To do so effectively, we’re going to have to go back to the beginning.

Doctor Strange’s existence in the MCU has been a problem for me ever since he was cast, as there has always been an issue with the original source material, and the on-screen interpretation of the character has not done anything to fix it. When he was introduced into the comic sphere in 1963 with Strange Tales #110, there was a mass hippie craze for any “exotic” culture. The Sorcerer Supreme’s lore and imagery were heavily inspired by Tibetan and South-East Asian Buddhist folklore and legends. Obviously, it was never thought at the time how harmful it is to take an external culture and exploit it for aesthetics, but he was actually never explicitly caucasian until he became a popular character and was implemented into other storylines.

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