The Problem With the Golden Globes North Korea Sketch No One Is Talking About

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

As the inevitable post-Golden Globes hangover starts to fade, it's worth revisiting what might be the most awkward gag of the ceremony.

You know the one:

Step inside the Beverly Hilton Hotel last night and you couldn't throw a penny without hitting a white person. Meanwhile, the only man, woman or child of Asian descent in a five-block radius seemed to be Margaret Cho's stereotypical take on a North Korean, replete with stoic facial expression, thick accent and the obligatory robotic cross-stage goosestep.

Ironically, the joke coincided with two remarkable achievements for women of color that evening: Ava DuVernay's Best Director nomination for Selma, the first ever for a black woman at the Globes, and Gina Rodriguez's Best Actress (TV Musical or Comedy) win for Jane the Virgin.

So it's especially telling that the only spot they could find for an Asian-American actress on the show was on screen for around two minutes as the (willing) butt of a joke.

The bit was something of a throwaway. It introduced Cho as Cho Young Ja, the "newest member" of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and editor of a North Korean pop culture magazine. 

The character was partly a nod to her portrayal of Kim Jong-il in a 2012 episode of 30 Rock, which she later described to zap2it as "great" chance to "get a little bit of karmic payback" against a regime that's directly impacted her family.

Source: YouTube

It also coincided with the ceremony's intermittent "free speech" theme, which prompted multiple North Korea-Sony hack jokes throughout the night and a standing ovation in solidarity with victims of Wednesday's terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

But while the stereotypical devices of the Margaret Cho joke clearly made many uncomfortable, as evidenced by viewer reactions, they highlighted a bigger problem as well:  the persistently limited opportunities for Asian and Asian-American talent in Hollywood.

Case in point is the repeated casting of white actors in remakes of films that originally starred Asian characters, like in Dragonball: Evolution, Avatar: The Last Airbender and most recently, DreamWorks' upcoming Ghost in the Shell remake starring Scarlett Johansson. Plus, when Asian performers finally do get parts, they're often forced to rely on stereotypes, framing them as exotic, comically emotionless or any number of others.

So the problem isn't whether Margaret Cho was right or wrong to make the joke — in fact, she's staunchly defended herself for doing so. Rather, the problem is context. This year's Golden Globes ceremony has been lauded for strong showings by women, the LGBT community, as well as black and Latina actors, yet the single Asian voice of note was designed as a gag.

We all know racial equity is a rare bird in Hollywood. But this incident proves, quite definitively, that we still have a very long way to go toward achieving it. 

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Zak Cheney Rice

Zak is a Senior Staff Writer at Mic.

MORE FROM

Dow Jones won’t talk about its reported pay gap problem

A study released by the union representing Dow Jones employees found evidence of a "significant pay gap between men and women" who had the same job title and level of experience.

Mom slams ACA repeal, shows what's at stake in a tweetstorm about son's health

This mom says that without the ACA, her son wouldn't get the medical care he desperately needs.

Theresa May announces pact with Northern Ireland's conservative DUP

10 of the DUP's MPs will vote alongside May's party in exchange for more than $1 billion of funds.

Supreme Court will hear case of baker who refused service to gay couples on religious grounds

The Supreme Court will take on the case of a bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Health care opposition, Trump on Russian meddling & Pakistan tanker explosion

The important stories to get you caught up for Monday morning.

Dozens missing after tourist boat carrying more than 160 passengers sinks in Colombia

At least six people are confirmed dead and dozens more unaccounted for.

Dow Jones won’t talk about its reported pay gap problem

A study released by the union representing Dow Jones employees found evidence of a "significant pay gap between men and women" who had the same job title and level of experience.

Mom slams ACA repeal, shows what's at stake in a tweetstorm about son's health

This mom says that without the ACA, her son wouldn't get the medical care he desperately needs.

Theresa May announces pact with Northern Ireland's conservative DUP

10 of the DUP's MPs will vote alongside May's party in exchange for more than $1 billion of funds.

Supreme Court will hear case of baker who refused service to gay couples on religious grounds

The Supreme Court will take on the case of a bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Health care opposition, Trump on Russian meddling & Pakistan tanker explosion

The important stories to get you caught up for Monday morning.

Dozens missing after tourist boat carrying more than 160 passengers sinks in Colombia

At least six people are confirmed dead and dozens more unaccounted for.