Tilda Swinton is attempting to shut down the “whitewashing” controversy between her and Margaret Cho as quickly as possible.
On Wednesday, Cho opened up about a tense discussion between her and Swinton that took part prior to the release of “Doctor Strange”, in which Swinton plays a character who is traditionally Tibetan in heritage.
Swinton had previously reached out to the comedian to discuss the fundamental issue with her latest role, which reportedly left Cho feeling like her “house servant.”
The conversation, which included Swinton asking Cho to keep private, is now available to read in its entirety after Vanity Fair obtained a complete transcript.
“We’ve never met, but you’ve been in my head for years – I’m a fan,” Swinton began in the email exchange. “I want to ask you a favour now which is sprung out of a truly important social conversation but may be heading for some crazy-making (crap). The diversity debate – ALL STRENGTH to it – has come knocking at the door of Marvel’s new movie DR STRANGE.”
She concluded her initial email with a kind request for privacy: “I would really love to hear your thoughts and have a – private – conversation about it. Are you up for this? Can we e-mail? No wrong answer here. Tell me to (screw) off if you feel like it.”
The very same day, Cho responded and immediately opened with a brief explanation of Asian whitewashing in American film. “Sure! I’m a big fan of yours,” her response began. ”The character you played in Dr Strange was originally written as a Tibetan man and so there’s a frustrated population of Asian Americans who feel the role should have gone to a person of Asian descent. The larger part of the debate has to do with the ‘whitewashing’ of Asian and Asian Americans in film.”
Cho added: ”Our stories are told by white actors over and over again and we feel at a loss to know how to cope with it. Protest seems to be the only solution— we just want more representative images of ourselves in film. TV is getting better in terms of diversity but film is lagging behind.”
“Anyway – hope this helps! We can totally email and we can be private!” Cho signed off.
In response, Swinton relayed her reasoning behind accepting the role. “I accepted happily, impressed that, for once, they aimed to disrupt the ‘wisdom must be male’ never-ending story – and, by the way, for once, wanting to feature a woman who’s a badass, over 26 and not simply bursting out of a bikini.”
“How best might we focus this thing? To offer intelligent and empowered thinking.. And see something constructive coming out of this moment?” Swinton asked. “I would love to know what ideas you – or anyone you know – have of something properly progressive to bring to this table. The debate is so important for all of us. It needs to build itself on strong ground.”
After offering further insight into the controversy, Cho suggested that Swinton try her hand at producing more diverse projects. Try “getting into producing content that would give Asian American voices a platform…that’s really what is being asked for,” Cho wrote, two which Swinton revealed she was South Korean director Boon Joon Hoo’s new film, “Okja”.
While the string of emails offered a different view into what Cho lead many to believe was a heated conversation, the “Hellstorm” star insisted that Swinton brought up her new project to rid herself of blame.
Cho has met Swinton’s release of the emails with a statement released by her publicist on Friday that read: “Asian actors should play Asian roles. 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. Now I’m going to go fall asleep at a museum.”
Read the full exchange of emails on VanityFair.com.