In a wide-ranging interview ahead of her work in five films for the Cannes Film Festival, Tilda Swinton addressed the “hot, sticky, gnarly moment” that occurred when her casting as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange stirred up criticism of whitewashing for the Marvel movie. While Swinton feels that the incident was “necessary for the industry to move forward,” she now admits that her handling of the situation was not the best, particularly the way she reached out to comedian Margaret Cho and asked her for help in understanding the situation, which Cho found “weird” at the time.
“I made a questionable decision to reach out to somebody in a certain way, which was naive and clearly confusing, because their misunderstanding came about because of it,” Swinton told Variety. “I was embarrassed that I had maybe gone up a blind alley in starting the correspondence in the first place — maybe I had confused matters — but beyond that, I have zero regrets.”
Back in December 2016, Cho famously revealed the details of the call with Swinton, who asked that she not tell anyone about the conversation. Instead, Cho aired her thoughts on the Bobby Lee’s TigerBelly podcast, and the details were not great. Via Vulture:
“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.’” (This is no doubt a reference to Bong Joon-ho’s upcoming film Okja in which Swinton stars with Yeun.)
“Oh, like I have a black friend,” Lee joked.
“It was weird because I felt like a house Asian, like I’m her servant,” Cho said.
As Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness began production, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige recently addressed the Ancient One controversy, and he, too, admits it could have been handled better.
“We’re not going to do the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man,” Feige explained to Men’s Health. “But it was a wake-up call to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, is there any other way to figure it out? Is there any other way to both not fall into the cliché and cast an Asian actor?’ And the answer to that, of course, is yes.”