Queer comedian Margaret Cho recently talked about Hollywood “whitewashing” in regard to Asian roles in movies, singling out Tilda Swinton for her role as the Ancient One in Dr. Strange—who was Asian in the original Marvel comic.
Cho talked with comedian Bobby Lee about how Swinton contacted her by email earlier in the year to understand the controversy over the casting. Cho described the conversation as “weird” and felt “like a house Asian … like I was following her with an umbrella.”
In response, Swinton released the emails the two exchanged, allowing readers to judge for themselves. In contrast to the media coverage, the emails reflected a thoughtful exchange in which the two expressed their admiration for each other, with Swinton adding that was unaware of the particulars of the debate around Dr. Strange, and “much more interested in listening than saying anything much.”
As some accused Cho of mischaracterizing the tone of Swinton's emails, Cho responded to the emails’ release by emphasizing that “Asian actors should play Asian roles” and that she was “grateful that the debate has now entered the national discussion.”
In the Dr. Strange comics, the Ancient One is portrayed as an elderly Tibetan monk. Swinton, a white, Scottish woman, was cast for the part.
In an interview for Out earlier this year, Swinton responded to criticism of her casting by pointing out that it was not the case that she was playing an Asian character since the role had been rewritten for the movie for a white woman, but that other characters had been introduced that added new diversity to the original, including Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, a Caucasian Transylvanian in the graphic novels.
“Anyone speaking up for a greater accuracy in the representation of the diversity of the world we live in has me right beside them,” she said. “As someone who has worked from the beginning as an artist within a queer aesthetic, the urgency of that voice is always going to be welcome.”
Read the full email exchange at EW.com.