‘Doctor Strange’ Feud Left Margaret Cho Feeling Like She Was Tilda Swinton’s ‘House Asian’

From its earliest pre-production phases, the live action Doctor Strange adaptation has been encumbered by media criticism of casting decisions and story arcs within the script, but no aspect of Doctor Strange has received as much attention as the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. The Marvel comic books, which have been the source material for Doctor Strange, details The Ancient One character as a mystical sage of Asian and male identity. As a result, Walt Disney Studios and director Scott Derrickson have come under fire for casting Swinton, a Caucasian female in the role.

Margaret Cho Shares Her Outrage Over Tilda Swinton’s Doctor Strange Views

Margaret Cho
Margaret Cho publicly criticizes Tilda Swinton over emails. Image by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.

Even after the reasoning for Swinton’s casting was explained, the decision didn’t sit well with fans, yet the issue seemed to fall by the wayside. Now, USA Today reveals that Margaret Cho has raised the whitewashing accusations anew, revealing an email exchange she shared with The Ancient One herself – Tilda Swinton. Some might ask how Margaret Cho became embroiled in this Doctor Strange controversy in the first place, but Cho found herself drawn into the whitewashing drama by Tilda herself.

In hoping to get a better understanding of all sides of the issue, Swinton reached out to Margaret via email to get her perspective of the Doctor Strange casting backlash. In the first email, Swinton expressed her confusion to Cho, explaining that she hoped to get her insight as an Asian entertainer, so she could better understand the views expressed by the Asian community.

It was a noble effort on Tilda’s part, but Cho now says the rest of the exchange didn’t go well at all. While Margaret feels that the whole incident was weird, she agreed to communicate with Tilda on the issue, but soon regretted that decision. Ms. Cho says Swinton had an unsavory attitude, something which came through loud and clear in her emails.

“It was weird because I felt like a house Asian, like I’m her servant,” said Cho. “Like the ones when they have in the (British) 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.”

Doctor Strange Star Tilda Swinton Told Margaret Cho Marvel’s Heart Was In The Right Place

Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton shares her 'Doctor Strange' emails. Image by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images.

Hoping to clear up any misunderstandings in the media following Margaret Cho’s comments about the emails the two actresses shared, Tilda Swinton has shared those emails with Vanity Fair. In the early messages, Swinton explains to Cho that she felt Marvel changed certain characters because the comic books, which have been on the market for decades, include stereotypes which may be offensive by today’s standards. In an effort to avoid offending audiences, Marvel and Walt Disney Studios made changes to certain characters.

Swinton added that, while The Ancient One was recast as a Caucasian woman, Doctor Strange was also retooled to have a much more diverse cast than is seen in the Marvel comics. For instance, Tilda points to the casting of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, who is a white Transylvanian in the Doctor Strange comic books. Also, Tilda reveals that a completely new character was created for Asian actor Benedict Wong.

Ms. Swinton further explained that she feels she has been wrongly embroiled in the whitewashing controversy, especially after having been active in bringing more diversity to Hollywood films.

“The idea of being caught on the wrong side of this debate is a bit of a nightmare to me,” says the Doctor Strange actress. “I am as sick as anybody at the lack of a properly diverse cinematic universe.”

Ms. Cho acknowledged Tilda’s feelings and says she believes the actress is committed to bringing more diversity to Hollywood. Margaret told Swinton she should consider using her influence to bring more attention to Asian artists.

“I can’t thank you enough for this,” Tilda Swinton told Ms. Cho toward the end of their conversation. “It really helps me sort out the lay of the land.”

While it seems Cho and Swinton ended on a positive note, Margaret’s public criticism of the Doctor Strange actress suggests that feeling wasn’t mutual. Only Margaret can speak to why she didn’t communicate her true discomfort to Swinton, but it does seem the conversation wasn’t as productive as Tilda had hoped.

Doctor Strange is currently showing in theaters.

[Featured Image by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images]