Tilda Swinton releases Margaret Cho emails amid ‘Doctor Strange’ whitewashing controversy

Cho accused Hollywood of "whitewashing" an Asian role when Swinton was cast as the Ancient One in 'Doctor Strange'.

Tilda Swinton has released what she says is her full email correspondence with Margaret Cho as the debate about “whitewashing” in Marvel’s Doctor Strange rages on.

Swinton appears in the Benedict Cumberbatch-fronted superhero movie, which hit cinema screens in October, as a spiritual guru character called the Ancient One. In the original Marvel comic books, the Ancient One is male and Asian, but the character was reimagined as a Celtic woman for the film.

This attracted criticism from several prominent commentators including Cho, a popular US comedian and activist, who felt that Hollywood had “whitewashed” a role that could have gone to an Asian actor.

During a recent interview on the TigerBelly podcast, Cho revealed that Swinton had contacted her to discuss the controversy, and asked her to keep their conversation private.

“It was weird because I felt like a house Asian, like I’m her servant,” Cho said. “Like the ones when they have in the raj, they would have the house servant who was your confidante… The servant that was close to you. That’s sort of what I felt like, like I was following her with an umbrella. I had a weird feeling about the entire exchange, especially the part of, ‘Don’t tell anybody.'”

Swinton has responded to Cho’s comments by releasing their email exchange to several outlets including Jezebel. The conversation appears more cordial and nuanced than Cho had suggested, with Swinton writing towards the end: “I can’t thank you enough for this. It really helps me sort out the lay of the land.”

In an earlier email, Cho tells Swinton: “I believe very much that you as an artist are about diversity and your body of work shows that – but this particular case of the Ancient One is just another in a long list of ‘whitewashed’ Asian characters and so you’re likely to feel the heat of history.”

Cho has since released a statement about the emails as they continue to provoke debate online, telling EW: “Asian actors should play Asian roles. I believe my emails stand on their own and should be taken for the spirit in which they were intended. I am grateful that the debate has now entered the national discussion and remain a huge fan of Tilda’s.”