Down the diversity rabbit hole

Down the diversity rabbit hole

In the news today is some sort of kerfluffle betwixt Margaret Cho and Tilda Swinton, regarding diversity.

Short version, Tilda was hired to play a part in a movie based on a 50 year old comic book that has been read by less than .001% of the population.  This part, in the comic, had been originally written as an elderly Asian man.  50 years ago.  In a comic book that has been ready by less than .001% of the population.

According to the people who made the movie – writers, directors, producers – the part had been totally rewritten and revamped BECAUSE of a desire to avoid stale, tired, racial stereotypes like “wise old Asian sensei”.  They rewrote it as kind of a Celtic guardian type (also done to death, by the way, but hey, it’s Hollywood, we can’t expect much) and cast Swenton in a part that actually suits her DNA very well.

Ok.  So a desire to not be racist, led to accusations of racism.  (I humbly suggest that if they hadn’t rewritten the part at all, and cast James Hong instead, they’d have been criticized on that account as well).  Anyway, the usual suspects proceeded to flip their shit over it.

The thing that gets up under my hoopskirts about this is that the unlikely casting of Tilda Swenton in an action movie, IS diversity.  She’s an older, unconventionally attractive, androgynous-yet-straight woman who has managed to find success in Hollywood despite not fitting into anyone’s tidy box.  Casting Tilda Swenton (in anything, let alone an action movie) is certainly no less diverse than had they cast Zhang Ziyi as a “sexy Asian sensei” or  Lucy Liu as “older sexy Asian sensei” or Michelle Yeoh as “much older sexy Asian sensei”.  It is no less diverse than if they’d cast Jackie Chan as “bumbling Asian sensei” or Jet Li as “cool Asian sensei”.  Would any of those really been in any way an improvement in the diversity department??  Less stereotypical?  Would it have helped underrepresented Asian actors in any way?

If the same 7 Asian actors (all of whom white people are super comfy with, BTW) get cast again and again in every movie ever made, that is not diverse, sorry.   Makes the rich richer and does nothing at all to help “underrepresentation”.  The only diverse-er casting I can come up with, other than Tilda Swenton, is Margarat Cho as “totally unexpected completely unathletic bisexual wacky wisecracking Asian sensei”.   Not in keeping with the tenor of the movie, perhaps, but yeah wow that’s more diverse.  Maybe next reboot.

I’m not saying that was Cho’s motivation here, not at all, but I do think she had SOME motivation that was not 99 and 44/110% pure.  Call me a cynic, but as a student of human nature, I am not convinced that the fight over “diversity” is always a legitimate one.   Sometimes, usually even, but not always.  Sometimes there is an ugly thread of selfishness underlying the noble talk about representation and fairness and social justice that boils down to folks basically saying “give me a bigger piece of the pie.”  And that’s ok, actually.  Everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie.   But for fuck’s sake, can ya not demand your pie without lying and misrepresenting the beliefs and positions of other people?

Because Margaret Cho did that.  She completely mischaracterized what Tilda Swenton had to say, almost in a fake-hate-crimey kind of way.   For attention, for self-promotion, maybe just to get a laugh on a talk show, I have no idea why.   Cho basically honeytrapped an admittedly out of touch middle aged woman who doesn’t even have social media, into being all like “yeah I’m totally working on a project with Asians” and then Cho played that card publicly.  It’s self-serving and sneaky and wrong.  Even if Tilda Swenton is operating on pure unadulterated white privilege (and yeah, I can see that in a couple spots, and yeah, I can imagine how that could rub a person the wrong way) that does NOT justify dishonestly smearing another person in order to personally benefit from racial animosity.

There is enough real, unendurable awfulness in the world already.  We don’t need more.  We don’t need to encourage a climate where everyone is afraid to talk to each other openly and honestly, about the serious issues facing humanity, for fear that it may be twisted, taken out of context, used against us the next day.    We don’t need these shifting sand definitions of “diversity”and “privilege” that change situationally and thus can be used against anyone at any point in time.  We don’t need to encourage a climate where no one can ever be sure if accusations of racism are genuine or drummed up/elicited via entrapment and we no longer are capable of believing victims at their word.  It’s toxic.


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