Emil Guillermo: Margaret Cho stole the show at the Golden Globes

January 12, 2015 10:47 AM

I always wondered whether I could create a ruckus by getting a voting membership in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, by virtue of my column "Emil Amok" appearing in a Philippines publication. You know, as the second coming of dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the movies, I could vote for more Filipino and Asian American actors and actresses.

But General Cho Yung Ja, a North Korean army general and a contributor to Movies Wow magazine, beat me to it.

To paraphrase the great Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn, if you have a message, don't call Western Union. Host a movie awards show. Or better yet, steal the show by being a running satirical prop.

And that's the kind of night comedian Margaret Cho had, coming out of nowhere to be the evening's "in-your-face" star.

There she was in full military drag, in a scowling white face that made Amy Poehler seem like a person of color, and that unmistakable Korean accent.

Why not? She heard it all her life growing up in San Francisco. It was pitch perfect.
It came out naturally to top off jokes satirizing the biggest story in Hollywood last year, North Korea's hack of the Sony movie, "The Interview." 

Co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler sharply attacked that story right from the start. In the opening, they joked about celebrating "all the movies that North Korea was OK with."

They launched into how the threat of an attack due to "The Interview" forced us "all to pretend we wanted to see it."

They said the movie was called "absolutely intolerable as a wanton act of terror," and then the punchline: "...not the worst review the movie got."

Funny, but there would be a topper--General Cho.

Being from San Francisco, I feel a kinship for Cho. She's also our Asian American comic queen, who brought us the first modern network Asian American sitcom, "All-American Girl" in 1994. Since then, she's been racier, edgier, funnier.

And when she was brought on to do her generalissima thing, Cho killed it.

At first it was just the look, holding up her Korean fanzine. Then there was the "sort-of-selfie" bit with Meryl Streep (actually taken by Michael Keaton) that sent up the "Ellen at the Oscars" gag.

But that wasn't all. The general came back throughout the show, criticizing it for not having a multitude of babies playing violins, or basketball players like Dennis Rodman. Like all good satire, there's an uncomfortable danger. It hits a nerve.

But was the portrayal racist? 


A better case for racism could be made when SNL trots out Bobby Moynihan every time as Kim Jong-un.

Cho was just being realistic. And scarily so, when you catch yourself and wonder if it's real. 

If that was you, you need to have more Asian and Asian American friends.

But was it an Asian minstrel show? A yellow Fetchit? 

If anything, it was Chaplinesque.

Go ahead, admit to your laughter. Cho's target was right: North Korea. 

And that's what you call satire, twitterpeeps. 

Of course, the twitterverse was full of those who didn't see it that way.

Well, that's the nature of satire. If you don't laugh or disagree, you get to speak out. Free speech begets more free speech. Debate. That's the way it works. You don't try to shut anyone down. You don't intimidate. You add to the conversation. You tweet your peace. 

These Globes seemed to have all sorts of diversity messages. The win for Amazon show "Transparent" was a high point for the transgendered community. "Jane the Virgin" star Gina Rodriguez, who beat out "Girls" star Lena Dunham for best actress in a comedy, was a moment for Latinos everywhere. So was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's win as best director for "Birdman." It was one of my favorite movies of 2014, and its star Michael Keaton brought home the class issue. He revealed to the room of successful bratty stars his humble start in the Midwest, as he accepted his award for "Birdman." 

"Selma" was expected to have its moment, and it did. But it was just a win for its song, "Glory." Prince, in a '60s afro and carrying a walking stick, presented the award. Maybe he was ready to beat back an Alabama state trooper. Whatever he was up to, it nearly upstaged the rapper Common, who played James Bevel in the movie. Common spoke like many of a younger generation just learning about the history. And he made the movie's point when he said, "Selma is now."

It was moving, but the civil rights moment of "Selma" didn't resonate with the night like the fight against the repression of free speech.

Theo Kingma, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association president, said: "Together we will stand united against anyone who would repress free speech, anywhere from North Korea to Paris." It got the longest, if not the only real standing ovation of the night.

It was even longer than when lifetime achievement winner George Clooney mentioned the millions of unity marchers in Europe, to which many in the room may have been oblivious.

But this was about the self-absorbed movie world. And the big story there was how "Boyhood," won for best picture, and deservingly so. Along with "Birdman," "Boyhood," with its universal message about life, shot over 12 years, were my two favorite films. (Hey, I was the movie critic for the San Francisco NBC affiliate from 1984-89.) 

But you can't end with "Boyhood." A three-hour-plus show needed to end with a bang.

Enter General Cho, one more time: "Show over, I host next year. Good night!" 

We can only hope. 

I would have preferred that more Asian American actors and filmmakers get their recognition. But Cho, in my opinion, was pretty damn good as a North Korean military movie dominatrix.

In a night of stars, an Asian American taking down the dictator wins the night.

*     *     *
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


1. The All - American Girl as General Cho, brilliant satire since it is sooo politically incorrect yet politically provocative. Really got a charge out of it because I believe it made lots of folks there and at home uncomfortable including me. Her character portrayal was edgy yet funny. Hope it made folks reflect even if most viewers have no idea who Margaret Cho is. Love it that she was an AALDEF Justice in Action awardee in 2003.
Posted by: sjx | Jan 12, 2015 7:36 PM

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