Tag Archives: Margaret Cho

The Swinton-Cho Letters, Part 1: What Went Down and How We’ve Responded

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I’m just so tired.

I was tired when I wrote, last June, about how Tilda Swinton was in talks to play the Ancient One in the then-upcoming Doctor Strange, because it was just one of several announcements where a role that could have gone to an Asian person didn’t. And it made me weary to have to read comments like “if any young white woman can pull off an old Asian man, it’d be Tilda Swinton,” and “PLEASE TELL ME HES PLAYING WONG!” after it was revealed Martin Freeman would be appearing in Captain America: Civil War.

Swinton ultimately being cast as the Ancient One, a Tibetan man in the comics, was never far from my mind moving forward. I would inevitably bring it up when discussing whitewashing and racebending in The Martian that very same year, and in many ways it made Doctor Strange a film that loomed in the impending future, a comic book movie I would need to see for myself in order to determine whether or not they did right by the groups they were trying not to offend.

Just to be clear, I can’t honestly say that I was angry when finally watching the movie. Like the title of my write-up plainly states I was left feeling disappointed. It also notes that my expectations were never particularly high, and how could they be when the filmmakers rewrote the character of Wong back into Doctor Strange upon finding that casting Swinton left them without any prominent Asian roles [in a movie that is set in Asia roughly half the time].

It was over a year of waiting for a film whose creators touted the representation of an older White woman to offset what was, without argument, whitewashing. It’s a defence that implies that in some cases the choices are feminism/anti-ageism and racial diversity, and that the two are mutually exclusive. It was, to put it more strongly, exhausting. And it’s easy to say that I should just care about this less and not let it affect me so much, but Asian representation is an issue that directly affects me, and one that will affect my children if and when I have any.

I was already so tired of all of this, and was looking forward to being able to stop thinking about Tilda Swinton and Doctor Strange and enjoy the few moments before we get any closer to Ghost in the Shell being released [difficult as a teaser aired before the Marvel film being discussed]. And what should I find this past week but an email conversation between Tilda Swinton and Korean American comedian Margaret Cho, which I have dubbed the Swinton-Cho Letters, and the internet’s response to the whole thing.

When I first started putting my fingers to the keyboard this was meant to be a single blog post split into two parts, but over a thousand words in and I thought two separate posts might be more efficient. And what better way to end a horrible year than to devote so much time and effort towards such a truly draining topic?
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