Feminist Flicks

Doctor Strange (2016)

You're a man looking at the world through a keyhole

Doctor Strange - A Feminist Review
Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange. Image from IMDB.

I was really hesitant to see Doctor Strange due to the whitewashing controversy surrounding it. I didn’t want to give my money to a racist movie. Now that I’ve seen it, I wish I had stuck to my guns and boycotted it.

Doctor Strange is the 14th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and it ranks among my least favourites. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Marvel’s classic alliteratively named hero, begins the movie as a world class neurosurgeon who could only be rivalled by the likes of Grey’s Anatomy’s Derek Shepard. After running his car of the road because he was texting and driving, Strange tragically loses his ability to perform surgery. Since his life has no meaning beyond the glory of neurosurgery, Strange becomes angry and disenfranchised and tries desperately to find a way to fix his injured hands. A man who was once paralyzed tells Strange of a mystical place called Kamar-Taj. And from that point on the movie is hella racist.

At Kamar-Taj Strange meets the all powerful Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). In Marvel Comics, the Ancient One is a Tibetan man, but to avoid racial stereotypes they decided to cast Tilda Swinton instead. A better solution would have been to change the Ancient One’s characterization to prevent these stereotypes in the first place. I am all for gender swapping the role, but I am never okay with white actors getting a role that should have gone to a person of color. There are enough roles for white people, especially in the MCU.

The Ancient One isn’t the only role facing whitewashing accusations. Stephen Strange’s race has been under debate, as well. While Marvel has never given a definitive answer on Strange’s race, he has often been drawn as a person of color and frankly, Benedict Cumberbatch is about as white as they come. Since every single MCU movie so far has had a white, male lead, it would have been really nice for Doctor Strange to mix it up. I guess I’ll just keep waiting for Black Panther.

Beyond it’s race issues, Doctor Strange also struggles with it’s treatment of women. There are only two prominent female characters, Strange’s love interest, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), and the Ancient One. These characters are in a room together at one point, but there is certainly no conversation between them. Therefore, Doctor Strange fails the Bechdel Test. This isn’t surprising since Marvel has about a 50% pass rate. Neither of these women have a story beyond their relationship to Strange, so the Mako Mori Test is a fail too.

The best thing about Doctor Strange is it’s visuals. The magic within the movie allows for the world around the characters to be manipulated, creating some stunning fight scenes. This was a nice change to the usual Marvel fight scenes in an alley or a parking lot or an airport. These effects were not enough to make up for the lack of plot, however.

The comic book medium has so many amazing women and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has failed to tell their stories. Despite fans begging for a Black Widow movie, we are going to have at least one more Thor movie before it is made. The first women led MCU film will be Captain Marvel, which is set to be released in 2019, over a decade after the MCU series began.

This is one of the skippable MCU films, for sure. You won’t miss anything more than some Easter Eggs and a lame Stan Lee cameo. It’s not worth putting up with the white washing and the sexism.