Margaret Cho: “It’s meta, it’s magical, it’s me”
The actor-slash-singer-songwriter-slash-activist-slash-comic talks to Jane Czyzselska
I speak to Margaret Cho on the day that English actor and rapper Ed Skrein (yes, the hirsute hero of Game Of Thrones S3 fame) announces he’s decided not to play a character written as Japanese American in the new Hellboy movie amid accusations of yellowface, an issue that is close to the comedian’s heart.
It wasn’t that long ago that Cho had an email run-in with androgynous actor Tilda Swinton after the latter was cast in Doctor Strange as a character originally written as a Tibetan man. Cho explained why this was problematic, prompting Swinton to ask Cho “why all the Asian people were mad”. Cho then accused Swinton of treating her “like her house Asian... like her servant”, going on to tell podcast TigerBelly, “Bitch, I can’t tell them... I don’t have a yellow phone under a cake dome.”
Yellowface and Asian representation is high on the multi-faceted and talented comedian’s agenda in her new UK show, provocatively titled Fresh Off The Bloat, which kicks off in Edinburgh at the end of November. “It’s really about trying to get Asian actors to play Asian roles and to know we have representation out there. We just want to have a voice and a measure of multiculturalism.” Five-time Grammy and Emmy-nominated US comedian Cho previously took to Twitter in 2015 when she learned that 80s English comic actress Janette Krankie was cast as the male Japanese designer, Huki Muki, in the most recent Ab Fab film. “#YELLOWFACE is racism. Sorry. It’s unacceptable. Not now. I was thrilled about #AbFabMovie but now I just can’t be. I’m very disappointed,” Cho vented. It’s disappointing too, I say, when people in the LGBTQI community speak or behave in a way that perpetuates such racism.
Anti-Asian so-called “jokes” are flavour of the month among some on the international drag queen circuit, with the guilty parties often punching down with crude stereotyping about “slitty” eyes and Korean wig shops, often sounding alarmingly similar to the alt-right. Why does she think so many in our community are racist? “You know it’s weird; sometimes there’s a blind spot when it comes to race because there is a feeling that if you’re of one minority you don’t have to be sensitive to the rights and needs of other minorities because you’re already dealing with your own oppression. Homophobia is very real, but you know racism is also out there. There’s always been complaints [about] dating apps for gay men, where they are easily able to say ‘no fats, no fems, no Asians’ in their profiles... and it’s hate speech. [Some people ask] ‘Can we take on more than one minority identity?’ I know we can. We have to because I’m living it!”
Read the rest of our interview with Margaret in the November issue of DIVA, available now at divadigital.co.uk.
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