Doctor Strange has been in theaters for over a month, during which time it has cemented itself as a critical and commercial success. However, the shadow of controversy has not faded away just because the movie's been released. Many of you will remember how Tilda Swinton being cast as The Ancient One was met with protests of "whitewashing" earlier this year, mainly because the character, although originally a man, was also of Asian descent, while Swinton is obviously white. One of the vocal opponents of the Doctor Strange casting decision was comedian Margaret Cho, but it's now been revealed that Cho had an email exchange with Swinton over the controversy this past summer, one which Cho left displeased.
Margaret Cho recently went on the TigerBelly podcast, and during her time there, she explained how she left her conversation about Doctor Strange with Tilda Swinton (at the time, it wasn't clear whether this took place over email, phone or elsewhere) feeling like a "house Asian," i.e. being asked by Swinton to keep their dialogue secret. She also didn't believe that Swinton didn't take away the right message. In response, Swinton's publicist has since provided copies of the email exchange to Jezebel and other outlets that paint a clearer picture of what happened.
You can click the link above to read the full exchange, but if you want the Spark Notes version, Tilda Swinton emailed Margaret Cho on May 13 asking her to explain her thoughts about the whitewashing controversy and what had been said about it, since Swinton doesn't use social media. Cho's responded by explaining how because The Ancient One was originally a Tibetan man, there were many who felt the role should have gone to someone of Asian descent. Cho also pointed out how there's a history of Hollywood whitewashing Asians and Asian Americans, which is why there have been protests for diversity. In her follow-up, Swinton stated how Marvel probably wanted to avoid stereotypes by casting an Asian man or woman as The Ancient One, while also noting how she wasn't specifically hired to play an Asian character. Cho responded by saying it was a timing issue and how this "anger" has been building for years, and also talked about how Swinton could acknowledge the issue in the future. Swinton then essentially ended the email exchange by mentioning her upcoming movie Ojka.
Judging from the now-public emails, it looks like this was a civil discourse, with both women providing their take on The Ancient One in Doctor Strange. Ideally Tilda Swinton walked away with a better understanding over why many fans were upset with the casting. Margaret Cho's recent comments make it clear she walked away unsatisfied, although given her comedic background, she may have been playing it up on the podcast for more humor. That said, none of this comes across as an argument as previously implied. Of course, Doctor Strange isn't the only blockbuster that's faced whitewashing controversy (looking at you, Ghost in the Shell), but at least the latest Marvel movie can be used as a learning experience.
Doctor Strange is still playing in theaters, and while a sequel hasn't been publicly announced yet, Stephen Strange is confirmed to return in Avengers: Infinity War.