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‘Mercy Mistress’ Exclusive: Margaret Cho-Backed Web Series About a Queer Asian Dominatrix

This short series explores BDSM, Asian-American identity, and queerness all in one sultry session with Mistress Yin.

Mercy Mistress

“Mercy Mistress”

eshapTV/Animal Family Productions

In a career spanning more than two decades, Margaret Cho has endeared herself to so many by saying things you’re not supposed to say. Whether it’s talking openly about experiences with eating disorders, rape, and addiction, calling out Hollywood’s racism, or dispelling myths about bisexual people and other alternative sexualities, Cho’s comedy addresses many different communities that are used to being ignored. Now, as a producer, she’s handing the mic to the next generation of queer kinky Asian-American feminists.

Based on a memoir by BDSM educator and activist Yin Quan, “Mercy Mistress” follows the character Mistress Yin (Poppy Liu), a queer, first-generation, Chinese-American professional and lifestyle dominatrix working in Manhattan. Each short episode explores the nuanced relationship between Mistress Yin and a new client as she pushes him to merge his kink life with his dating life. Sultry, subtle, and impeccably styled, “Mercy Mistress” is a pulsing romp through a rarely seen community. Centering an Asian-American queer femme kinky sex worker may sound like a mouthful, but “Mercy Mistress” dishes it out in the most delicate bites.

“I think it’s so unique, and such a fresh perspective, and it’s a fresh take on what we think of as a BDSM community and the queer community and also Asian-American-ness,” Cho told IndieWire in a recent interview.

Growing up in San Francisco, Cho attended the Folsom Street Fair, a massive event celebrating the queer BDSM and leather communities. “My experience of the leather community really comes from queer kink,” she said. “I used to work at this company called Stormy Leather in the 90s making leather dildos, I mean just incredibly grassroots, like actually making sex toys and selling them, so this world to me has really come alive in this series.”

While she concedes that “Fifty Shades of Grey” was “in its own way very legit,” she added: “It’s not about some weird dude with a helicopter, you know? Those kinds of images don’t really ring true in my world of kink, and I think [‘Mercy Mistress’] is actually very true to the lifestyle and what people really do, which is much sexier, and a lot more fun, and much more relatable and interesting.”

Beyond “Fifty Shades,” Quan was inspired to write something more authentic after seeing so many negative and inaccurate media portrayals of kink and sex work. “Media tends to glorify sex work…where it seems glamorous but also shows the person’s completely destitute, or amoral,” said Quan. “I’m tired of that. The two narratives are like the happy hooker or the person who’s completely down and out who’s just doing it for some kind of hustle.”

In the evolving discourse about representation, it’s easy to forget what’s truly at stake. Representation matters because the images people see of themselves in media have the power to change the way they see themselves in real life. After an early screening, an Asian-American man told the “Mercy Mistress” team that he finally understood the emotional reasons behind representation.

“He was like, ‘I didn’t know, emotionally, that I would feel something I didn’t know I needed to feel,'” said Liu. “Which was like, ‘oh my gosh, here I am, and I see myself…My life is valid. [I can] look at a mirror, to me in the world. And therefore, I deserve to exist.'”

As with Asian-American stories and queer stories, media depictions of sex workers have historically been extremely harmful. “So many representations of especially Asian-American sex workers are usually sex trafficked victims, or people who have been misused during war-time, so those images are the ones that stick with us,” said Quan. “To be an Asian-American sex worker, you have to live with this stereotype of the person who’s been victimized so much that you don’t have your own agency. So how to then reclaim not only your agency over your sexuality, but also your agency over your work and keep it valid has been a deep struggle.”

Read More: ‘Monogamish’ Trailer: Sex Workers, Philosophers, and Dan Savage Break Down the Myth of Monogamy — Watch

“That’s where having invisibilized stories…is dangerous,” Liu added. “When communities are invisible and we don’t see them…we don’t know when harm happens to them either. We don’t know when they disappear.”

Season 1 of “Mercy Mistress” was directed by Amanda Madden. Cho serves as Executive Producer, along with her partners Sarah Martin and Jessie Boemper, and their frequent collaborator, Evan Shapiro. Together the team recently announced their sale of comedy series “Almost Asian” to IFC.

The entire series will launch on January 7, following an event at New York’s Museum of Sex. Watch the first episode of “Mercy Mistress” exclusively on IndieWire below.

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