With Outlander Season 3 introducing the first characters/actors of color, this article is so timely. Many have wondered how they would be portrayed on the show, including me (Vida).
Tyrese Coleman tackles the touchy subject of stereotypes/caricatures found in the book characters of Dr. Joe Abernathy (played by Wil Johnson) and Mr. Willoughby (played by Gary Young) by comparing them to the version we now have on the TV show.
It is outstanding!
People have wanted to have this conversation. After reading the article, let’s discuss in the comments.
The characters of Yi Tien Cho and Joe Abernathy have been criticized for being stereotypical. In interviews with BuzzFeed News, author Diana Gabaldon and the show’s executive producer Matthew B. Roberts explain how they approach these characters.
In “A. Malcolm,” the sixth episode of the Starz show Outlander’s third season which aired Sunday night, viewers get their first glimpse of the controversial character Yi Tien Cho. Played by Gary Young, Cho, an exiled Chinese scholar in Scotland, is brawling inside a pub with a tavern wench who claims he stiffed her. The woman wallops Cho, who falls to the ground. James Fraser (Sam Heughan), better known as Jamie, pulls Cho to his feet.
“He licked my elbow,” the woman angrily exclaims after Jamie asks what happened. “He said he just wanted to rub it. I told him it cost a penny a minute. Then he just up and licked it. And without paying additionally.” Jamie pays the woman and as she smiles and walks away, the pub band plays some jaunty music, as if to say, “Aye, that was no big deal.”
But to fans of the book series upon which the show is based, this scene is significant, the departure from the novel instantly recognizable. In Voyager, the third book in the Outlander series written by historical fiction author Diana Gabaldon, Cho or Mr. Willoughby (the name he’s given in Scotland) is described as having a deviant foot fetish. “Well, it’s the feet, ye ken,” Jamie says in the novel version of this scene. “So far it’s only been whores … but ye canna tell what he may try…. He’s a heathen.” This character detail is just one of many changes the TV show has made to both Yi Tien Cho and Dr. Joe Abernathy (portrayed by Wil Johnson), the first characters of color to appear in the series.
Voyager, published in 1993, is an epic novel of over a thousand pages that takes its main characters, the Scottish Highlander James Fraser and his English wife, Claire, on an actual voyage — not only in time, but across the globe. We first find Claire living (in her own era) in Boston, and eventually follow the characters as they swashbuckle their way from Scotland to the West Indies. Voyager is the first book in the series to introduce nonwhite characters, finally broadening the story’s historical worldview to include a wider range of cultures. Gabaldon who identifies as half Hispanic, is explicit in her depictions of the cruelty of slavery and the outright hatred of minorities displayed by white people during both the 1760s and the 1960s. She skillfully shows readers the complex moral ambiguity of good-natured white people during both time periods.
Her depictions of characters of color, however, are problematic. Claire meets Abernathy when they are both students at Harvard Medical School. Claire’s lens as the only first-person narrator presents him as a self-hating black man, shucking and jiving in his educated way. Cho, meanwhile, is a drunk with a seemingly amoral sexual fetish who can magically do all things Chinese people from the 18th century were known to do — acrobatics, acupuncture, bird fishing, just to name a few. Claire calls Cho “the little Chinese” almost every time she refers to him.
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