You Can Read All Of Tilda Swinton & Margaret Cho's Discourse On Whitewashing

Photo: Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shutterstock
Jezebel reached out to Swinton in regards to the conversation between Cho and the Doctor Strange actress, and Swinton's rep responded by sending their entire email exchange — without edits.

Brian Swardstorm, who represents Swinton, wrote, "Since you asked for a response to a story you published today about the substance and tone of a correspondence between Margaret Cho and Tilda Swinton, Tilda offers you the entire unedited and only conversation she has ever had with Margaret — with her gratitude for the opportunity to clarify and with all good wishes to all."

Throughout the politely worded exchange — all of which you can find here — Swinton requests privacy as the two hash out the controversy.

Swinton writes, "I would really love to hear your thoughts and have a — private — conversation about it. Are you up for this? Can we e-mail?"

The following messages explore the nuances of whitewashing controversy. Swinton seeks to understand; Cho seeks to explain. It's pretty elevated discourse — not a cat fight.

In one of Cho's last emails, the comedian writes, "I think that talking about the issue frankly — as you have done with me is the right way to go. It’s hard I know — people get very angry and it’s difficult to know what to do to get around that anger. But you should know that it’s anger built up over many many years of invisibility within film/tv/media that’s just exploded now with this film."

To be fair, the Doctor Strange actress did the most "frank" thing she could do — she shared the entire email exchange with the internet.

This story was originally published on December 16, 11:45 a.m.

After the announcement that Tilda Swinton was cast in Marvel's recently released Doctor Strange, plenty of people in and out of Hollywood spoke up to express negative feelings about the choice. One such person, Margaret Cho, apparently received a personal phone call from Swinton regarding the issue, but the whole conversation sounds pretty...well, strange.

To recap: Swinton, a white woman, plays the Ancient One in the movie version, effectively erasing the fact that the character in the comic book is a Tibetan man. This decision received backlash because it might have been assumed the role would go to a man of Asian descent. Instead, the character was "adapted" specifically to fit Swinton, thus embodying another example of Hollywood limiting the number of leading roles for nonwhite actors.

The film's creators, and Swinton herself, came to the defence of the choice, telling The Hollywood Reporter that she "wasn't asked to play an Asian character," as if the switch-up on the page somehow made the situation better.

Cho, a Korean-American comedian, expressed her disappointment in the decision on Twitter. In May, she reportedly tweeted: "It’s intense. It’s that we have been invisible for so long we don’t even know what we can do. Those who say racism doesn’t exist anymore are the biggest perpetuators of it."

And now, Cho has revealed that Swinton called her to ask her why, exactly, "Asian people were mad" at the casting choice.

On the December 14 episode of Bobby Lee's TigerBelly podcast, Cho discussed the bizarre incident, saying, "Tilda eventually emailed me and she said that she didn’t understand why people were so mad about Doctor Strange and she wanted to talk about it, and wanted to get my take on why all the Asian people were mad. It was so weird."

The host then joked, “You are the president of all Asians: American division," and Cho quipped back, “I don’t have a yellow phone under a cake dome!”

Cho continued, "It was a long fight about why the part should not have gone to her. That’s what I thought: The part should not have gone to her. We’d fight about it and basically it ended with her saying, ‘Well I’m producing a movie and Steven Yeun is starring.’”

Cho says she and Swinton had a "long conversation" before Swinton asked her not to "tell anybody." She added, "It was weird because I felt like a house Asian, like I’m her servant. 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."

Of course, this is Cho's account of the conversation, so it would be important to hear Swinton's side as well. But having conversations about whitewashing and how problematic it is really is a great thing, even if the tone of this particular exchange wasn't entirely positive. Here's hoping that engaging in disagreements like these can help usher in the change that's so desperately needed.
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