“Asian Actors Should Play Asian Roles": Margaret Cho Responds to Dust-Up with Tilda Swinton

Margaret Cho photo: Getty; Tilda Swinton still: Walt Disney Pictures
Margaret Cho photo: Getty; Tilda Swinton still: Walt Disney Pictures

Tilda Swinton and Margaret Cho have enjoyed extensive discussion over Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, who in the original comic was a Tibetan man. Though their email exchange originally took place in May, it only came to light during Cho’s appearance on Bobby Lee’s TigerBelly podcast earlier this week. Since then, Swinton’s camp has released the entire archive of their conversation, which, contrary to Cho’s assessment, seemed quite cordial.


On Friday night, Cho released another statement to Entertainment Weekly:

“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.”

On the show, Lee and Cho talked about the tendency of Hollywood executives to whitewash films featuring Asian characters in the source material—Scarlett Johanssen’s character in Ghost in the Shell, for one, as well as casting for the film 21.

Cho, who called the conversation “so weird,” said she felt she was treated as Swinton’s “house Asian...like I’m her servant...like I was following her with an umbrella.”

“[She] was like, ‘Could you please tell them...’” says Cho. “I’m like, ‘Bitch, I can’t tell them...I don’t have a yellow phone under a cake dome.’”

In reality, Swinton and Cho’s conversation concluded with Cho’s suggestion that Swinton produce “content that would give Asian American voices a platform.” Swinton responded:

By the way, the project I have been developing as a producer over the past two years is with Bong Joon Ho - my colleague from SNOWPIERCER - a film called OKJA shooting this summer in Korea, NYC and Vancouver - to my knowledge the first ever half Korean/half English speaking film, which we are making with Plan B and Netflix, in which the lead is a 14 year old girl from Korea and which stars Steven Yeun, amongst others.. fingers crossed it will be a big deal and help the landscape somewhat.. I hope and believe it will..


“Hey that’s great about OKJA!,” Cho replied. Sounds pretty civil to me!



I’m guessing that Cho doesn’t understand why a lot of people are pissed at her. It has nothing to do with her feelings that Asian actors should play Asian roles, which is completely valid. Everyone’s pissed because she took what was supposed to be a private conversation, twisted it into the worst possible interpretation and used it to smear Tilda, who genuinely wanted to understand the issues in a constructive professional and responsible way. Cho looks like an asshole here and she deserves it.