One could be forgiven for thinking that something truly terrible had happened over at Marvel Studios the way that some fans have been taking to social media to express their anger and distress this afternoon. So what happened to make a part of the fandom loose their collective minds? Well, if you believe the internet, Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as the title character in Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange movie. The problem is, that isn’t exactly true.
To quote from the article that broke this news earlier today, “I’m hearing Benedict Cumberbatch is the studio’s choice for the superhero pic, and negotiations are about to begin.” To point out the obvious, the fact that Marvel would like Cumberbatch to play the role, and that they’re just starting to talk to him about that does not make it a done deal. Marvel’s negotiations with Joaquin Phoenix broke down right around Comic Con, so there’s no reason to believe that it might not happen again. Cumberbatch is a busy man these days, so he might turn it down for scheduling reasons. That’s not to say that it’s a bad idea for Cumberbatch to play the role, in fact I think he would do quite well, but let’s break down exactly why this casting is causing so much frustration.
So one of the most common complaints about this casting I’ve seen is, “He’s overexposed.” Now, I feel that this is a valid complaint. As I said, the man’s busy. Not only is he dealing with the final Hobbit movie, he’s also got the second Hollow Crown series, and The Penguins of Madagascar and a whole slew of other projects. So I can certainly see how a bit of Cumberfatigue might be setting in. But there are still plenty of people who like the guy and who will happily shell out to see him on the big screen.
Diversity in casting is a big problem in the movie industry right now. And the problem isn’t any better over in the comics industry. And a lot of fans are disappointed that Marvel hasn’t been talking to any POC actors about the role. Now, not to sound like a massive dick, but Stephen Strange isn’t a POC. If you look at his Marvel Wiki character page, it lists his parents as Eugene and Beverly Strange and his birthplace as Philadelphia, PA; and he spent his childhood at the family farm in Nebraska. Not to say that he couldn’t be cast as a POC, but if they’ve decided that they want to stick to cannon, yeah, they’re gonna cast the guy as white.
Now before anyone starts screaming about White Privilege, let me say this. I would like to see a POC actor in the role myself, I’d really like Alexander Siddig to take the role; but it isn’t my decision, it’s Marvel’s. And in the end, we’re all going to have to live with that and decide whether or not casting a white actor in a role that a lot of people would have liked to see a POC actor take is worth not going to see it.
The third most common complaint I’ve seen is that Cumberbatch is too safe a choice. I think that this ties in with the overexposure complaint. He’s a bankable star name, and that’s true. But here’s the thing, Doctor Strange isn’t a character that most people outside of the comic fandom are familiar with. To be honest, he seems a bit second string to me. Important yes, but not someone a lot of fans would know really well.
Now Marvel has done well casting unknowns in the past, but maybe they feel that the movie might do better if it has a name star attached to it. And lightning seldom strikes twice. Still, Hollywood does have a reputation for not taking chances when they should, and this might be one of those times. But I still think that Cumberbatch would do well in the role, and I’d like to see fans give him a chance.
In the end, this is just another rumor. And as such, I’m taking it with a few pounds of salt. Marvel will announce who they’ve decided to cast when they’re ready to do so. And all the metaphorical gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair in the world probably won’t have much of an effect on their decision. So just calm down, take a breath, and wait. Marvel might just surprise us.