Margaret Cho (no surprise) Speaks Her Mind
Fans can watch Margaret Cho's new concert film, "Cho Dependent," on Showtime beginning this weekend. Here, Emily Wilson talks to the star and the film's director and discovers the political roots of Cho's outspoken comedy.
In her latest concert film, "Cho Dependent," comedian/activist/actor/author Margaret Cho adds singer to her résumé, doing songs from the Grammy-nominated album of the same name, along with talking about her stint on "Dancing with the Stars"; how she wants to be a gay man; Sarah Palin; and queer rights.
Lorene Machado, who directed "Cho Dependent," says she admires performers like Cho, who will say whatever is on their mind without editing themselves. Cho expressing herself gives others the courage to do the same, she says.
"This our fifth film in over a decade, and people have told us that seeing these movies or seeing Margaret perform changed their lives, gave them more confidence or helped them come out or made them feel OK about being gay," Machado said. "That’s so important to Margaret that she can see an influence on people’s lives."
Making movies with Cho means she gets to do work that aligns with her politics, Machado says.
"She’s speaking her truth, and she’s a voice for outcasts," Machado said. "Media feeds us all these perfect, beautiful people, but Margaret gives us herself."
An illustrative example for Machado is when Cho wore a rainbow outfit on "Dancing with the Stars" to promote self-acceptance during a rash of gay teen suicides.
"I admire her a thousand percent for doing that," Machado said. "I was in the live audience when she danced that dance, and I thought I would burst into tears. It’s a mainstream TV show, and it takes guts to do that. She says in her film that if it saved one gay teen then she won."
Cho says she still has the dress, and she plans to give it to a gay teen organization to auction off.
"It was a perfect time to wear it," Cho said by phone from Atlanta, where she films the TV series, "Drop Dead Diva." "I wanted to make a statement about what was happening with gay teens. There had been four suicides in two weeks and it was just horrible and heartbreaking." Cho also appears among the spokeswomen in the documentary "Miss Representation," on the distorted image of women in the media.
Cho said she learned her outspoken politics growing up in San Francisco where Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was later assassinated along with then mayor George Moscone, was the nation’s first openly gay elected official.
"I was ten when he was elected in my city," she said. "There were all these gay guys who worked for my dad who were very into Harvey Milk, and they’d take me to see him and to gay pride events. There was the punk rock movement, and a lot of Rock Against Reagan events and AIDS fundraisers, which is where I started performing. The roots of my comedy are very political."
This political advocacy is one of the things that prompted officials at Frameline, the San Francisco International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Film Festival, to present Cho this year’s Frameline Award, given to a person who has made a major contribution to LGBT representation in film or television, or the media arts.
Getting this award at the festival where "Cho Dependent" screened meant a lot to her, says Cho.
"It’s a wonderful, huge thing," she said. "The Frameline Festival is the most important one for me because it’s all about queer filmmakers, which is the community I want to make films for."
Cho’s political heart may be in San Francisco, but she says she likes living in Atlanta.
"It just makes me feel how important it is to have a voice and pride in your voice," she said. "It’s a very liberal city in the middle of a red state, so there’s conservatism around you. Where I go to work is the capital of the southern Tea Party, so it’s a weird juxtaposition."
Cho’s breakthrough on TV came in 1994 with the ABC series "All American Girl," one of the first representations of an Asian family on a major network. But the attention to her weight and her loss of control creatively on the show led to eating disorders and self-doubt, which she documents in an earlier film, "I’m the One that I Want."
Her current series, "Drop Dead Diva," about a shallow, skinny woman who dies in an accident and whose soul goes into the body of a brilliant, non-skinny lawyer, is the opposite of that experience, Cho says.
"'Drop Dead Diva' is all about how society places value on women looking a certain way," she said. "It stars Brooke Elliot as a lawyer who had a former life as a model, and it’s about her journey through that. It’s really great, and I’m really excited to be on it because it’s so important to have these different types of beauty out there."
"Cho Dependent" will be shown on Showtime starting Saturday, October 15, and will be released on DVD November 21.
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