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Tilda Swinton Releases Emails with Margaret Cho About Whitewashing of 'Doctor Strange'

Tilda Swinton Releases Emails with Margaret Cho About Whitewashing of 'Doctor Strange'

When Tilda Swinton was involved in a whitewashing controversy over her character The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, the Oscar-winning actress confided in Margaret Cho over email to try and understand the public’s perception. Now, their email conversation has been published online with her permission.

Tilda released the emails after Margaret said in a podcast that they got into “kind of a fight about why the part should not have gone to her.”

“Basically, it ended with her saying, ‘Well, I’m producing a movie with Steven Yeun starring,” Margaret said on the TigerBelly podcast.

Tilda‘s rep sent the full exchange to Jezebel with the following statement: “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.”

Margaret spoke out about the release of the emails. “Asian actors should play Asian roles,” she told EW. “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.”

Click through the slideshow to read each of the emails…

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Photos: Getty
Posted to: Doctor Strange, Margaret Cho, Tilda Swinton

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  • Michele V

    Margaret’s response is hilarious. Completely deflecting the fact that she lied about the tone of their conversation.

  • Anastatia Bagans

    And what about the Black man in the movie who didn’t belong either? No mention about him? Or is it only okay when the roles are just less white? I can’t take these social justice warriors seriously. If you’re going to be adamant about roles staying true, then really be about it. All the white roles that have been black washed should be a problem too.

  • GroundControl500

    Margaret should apologize for completely lying about the substance and tone of the exchange she had with Tilda. Bad enough she tried to use it for some agenda but worse that the email exchange reveals Margaret’s duplicity. What could she have been thinking? A nice exchange to try to gain understanding and work toward more diversity initiated by Tilda and Margaret turns it into a cheap shot.

  • Gina

    Black washing?? LMAO. You tried, honey.

  • Darren Woolcock

    Yep. If Margaret considers this exchange “arguing” then she’d be horrified at some of my exchanges that I consider “on friendly terms”.

  • Darren Woolcock

    While I hear where you’re coming from, I don’t believe you can hold it against ‘social justice warriors’. These flicks have audience targets in the tens of millions and budgets of hundreds of millions. It is incumbent on a good PR department to pick up on these things – radical departures from the original storyline – and articulate their rationale. It was a failing of the Marvel PR team to not articulate what Tilda said so well in the emails, and it was a failing of them not to articulate that parts went to people of colour that were originally anglo in the comics.

    I see it as similar to the unwillingness of HBO to sympathetically and meticulously address the issues raised regarding the implications and methods of their various departures from the book storyline in GoT.

  • AK

    did margaret read the tildas long letter clearly ???? idiot

  • Grunge Groupie

    Mordo and The Ancient One are completely different. Mordo’s race is unimportant whereas an Ancient Tibetan figure, albeit a fictional one, is a huge leap to change to Tilda. I can see the issues some might have with it. Regardless, it has been explained by the director that their choice was a political one and had nothing to do with diversity.

  • Jaye

    This is a film based on the comics, not a historical or real person. I don’t see that the complaint is valid. When people make that type argument, they need to deal with reality, not the fantasy world, otherwise they sound silly.

    The Mandarin was also changed in Iron Man 3, otherwise the film wouldn’t have gotten to play in China. Some of the fanboys didn’t like that, but it didn’t keep them from supporting the film. Anyway, I’m still of the opinion that the argument doesn’t hold water when it comes to fantasy and make believe characters.

  • Gj the great

    Thinking on this more, I believe it’s possible that Tilda (and filmmakers possibly) may have wanted to know IN ADVANCE what Margaret (an authoritative activist and pretty much the only Asian-American voice visible in pop culture) would say, to help the film get their rationalizations and pr machine prepared in advance. I don’t blame Margaret for feeling “icky” after being contacted. I believe it would be possible to sense other layers underneath what on the surface seemed like an earnest-reaching-out.

    I can’t believe Margaret Cho didn’t comment on below:

    The following was, whether tangible to most or not, inherently showing racist privilege**:

    Tilda’s notion that an Asian female in her role would *OF COURSE* be synonymous with a *dragon lady*. Wow when I read that sentence I could practically see Tilda’s tongue sticking out in distaste, because of the way she worded it: “not wanting to engage with the old ‘Dragon Lady’ trope.” It was great progress when Hollywood started showing images that black men can, also, look presidential and not merely just butler-ish or thug-ish. It will be great when a strong Asian woman imagery is not casually defined as “the dragon lady” caricature.

    I agree with one writer’s assertion that she was being disingenuous in claiming that she hadn’t at all thought it through, and not having to think this through is in-and-of-itself a marker of privilege. And I can totally see why Margaret Cho felt summoned like a “house Asian.” Since Margaret is pretty much the only Asian talent in pop culture with “a voice,” I think she was obviously the only one “to target” to get a sense of if there would be any authoritative blip on the radar screen upon the film’s release. I don’t assume it was as premeditated as: “if she reneges on keeping it a secret at least we’ll have our rationale in print to release to the media,” but given Margaret being the only “valid target” out there, I also wouldn’t be surprised either, if reaching out to her was really in fact methodical/planned out/strategic. Tilda may have worded her emails extra carefully, knowing they could be released for the film’s pr purposes. And the film may have just been planning to have them “accidentally hacked” if necessary; we’ll never know how strategic the whole thing could have been. I definitely wish it could be assumed to be as it initially appears, just an earnest checking-in, but when millions of dollars are at stake….? anything is possible in this day and age.

    Subtly inherent in the way Tilda cited how OBVIOUSLY it [dragon lady trope] was not the desired aesthetic/image, her own bias is apparent. Which of course is consistent with Hollywood’s negative bias and pigeon-holing of Asians. That strong Asian females are always dragon ladies (if not the [only] other extreme: the geisha girl or prostitute), and can not be sympathetic characters when not totally dominatable, [A FEMINIST ISSUE as well. WHEN RACISM AND SEXISM INTERSECT, people!!!]

    One crux of the Asian-American-lack-of-diversity issue: through the lens of racism you have historically been regarded as foreigners or enemies no matter if you are just as American as your neighbor. When a European citizen/transplant can instantly be regarded as more American more relatable more sympathetic and CAN PLAY A PROTAGANIST MORE than an American citizen who is not seen as an equal community member.

  • Gj the great

    a few instances of race-switches for whatever casting reasons, in a kaleidoscope of dominated by mostly white roles and perspectives (so we’re talking 0.0000001% of white roles switched to another race)…….compared to an archaic still upheld “tradition” of almost all asian characters being played by whites often with asian makeup, in same above kaleidoscope dominated by white roles and perspectives, and for the very different and specific racist bias: white is better/more valid? a white person with asian makeup is better to play an asian character? compared to about 90% of the time there is an [asian] story with a main asian character in the story, and main character gets changed to either a white character or is played by a white in asian makeup? THINK IT THROUGH

  • Gj the great

    THE ANTIDOTE TO -ism’s: intelligence and perceptive reasoning.
    Unfortunate, most people are average in intelligence and below average in perceptive reasoning.