From Matt Damon's casting in The Great Wall to Scarlett Johansson taking the lead in Ghost in the Shell, Hollywood has been accused of whitewashing Asian roles multiple times this year. Similarly controversial was Tilda Swinton's work as the Ancient One — a Tibetan monk — in Marvel's Doctor Strange.
In a new interview, Asian-American comedian Margaret Cho says she tried to explain to Swinton why the portrayal was problematic, but things did not go too well.
Appearing on Bobby Lee's TigerBelly podcast [via Vulture], Cho explains that her public critiques of the casting choice led to a private conversation with Tilda Swinton.
"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," Cho said. "It was so weird."
The pair were introduced through Alex Borstein — the comedic actress whose MadTV character Ms. Swan was heavily criticized for propping up Asian stereotypes. "She hooked us up. Which is the most ironic," Cho said.
The pair had a long phone conversation that Swinton reportedly requested be kept secret. According to Cho, it did not go well. "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," said Cho. "We'd fight about it and basically it ended with her saying, 'Well I'm producing a movie and Steven Yeun is starring.'"
"Oh, like, 'I have a black friend,'" Lee replied.
Cho added that the whole conversation left a bad taste in her mouth. "It was weird because I felt like a house Asian, like I'm her servant," she 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 previously defended the casting choice. In an interview with IndieWire, she claimed that director Scott Derrickson wanted a white actor in the role to avoid promoting Asian stereotypes.