Day 354: An open letter to Margaret Cho

Day 354: An open letter to Margaret Cho

Day 354: An open letter to Margaret Cho

Monday, December 19, 2016

Dear Margaret,

I am an Asian American who knows first-hand what it’s like to work in an industry that is white-washed. If you checked that link, you’ll know that I haven’t lived in the US for some time, but I’d like to think it gives me some perspective on how Americans are perceived by the rest of the world.

I want to thank you, first of all, for bringing Tilda Swinton into the spotlight with regards to her casting as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange. It builds on the conversation that is being had about Hollywood whitewashing and the racial biases that affect people like you and I.

However, I must admit that I am a little uncomfortable with how things are playing out. You see, not unexpectedly, Ms Swinton’s representatives have released your email correspondences in full.

In it, she says “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 …”

This passage, the final paragraph of her email, strikes me as a quick aside. It feels like she’s trying to say, ‘hey I mightn’t be able to change the world, but hopefully I’m helping.’

That’s very different to the account you gave on the TigerBelly podcast, where you characterized her as saying “Well I’m producing a movie and Steven Yeun is starring”, which definitely comes across, as you say, as though she’s saying “Oh, like I have a black friend”.

But she’s not, though, is she? I mean, she does say the words “fingers crossed it will be a big deal and help the landscape somewhat,” which suggests she knows it’s a far more complex situation than your emails will allow, and a far bigger problem than she alone can solve.

The media – the organisations that like to yell “He’s a racist, GET HIM!” to their readers – would like us to believe she is lying. Or at least one of you are lying. The part of me that left the media knows this is all just a narrative that both of you are now consciously feeding.

My question is: why?

I get that you’re trying to raise public awareness.

But to me, the suggestion that you may have exaggerated parts of your account to the TigerBelly podcast introduces a weakness to what has been, up to this point, a credible campaign about Asian American race issues.

It has not won us any new friends.

I’d like to believe we are better than this. We need to be, because shaming people in the way people are trying to shame Ms Swinton is a very Western way of thinking and it will not help our cause.

Would it have hurt to have kept the conversation private, like she asked?

We would’ve gained an ally. We wouldn’t have gained so many new detractors. The campaign would not have lost any steam.

I’m playing the long game, Margaret. I hope the headlines are worth it.

 

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One thought on “Day 354: An open letter to Margaret Cho

  1. Pingback: Day 144: Strange | idiot.with.camera

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