Monday, August 18, 2014

Controversy over the portrayal of Japanese characters in theatre

A controversy sparked by the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s recent production of The Mikado, the comic opera traditionally played by white actors made up as Japanese characters.

The Seattle Times’ opinion editor, Sharon Pian Tan, wrote an outraged piece  after seeing the performance.  She wrote that the “yellowface” used in the portrayal of 40 Japanese characters was as ugly and outdated as the use of blackface, which has long been taboo in America.

“A black wig and white face powder stand in for shoeshine. Bowing and shuffling replaces tap dancing. Fans flutter where banjos would be strummed,” Tan wrote.

Though the company had never provoked such outrage with its ten previous productions of the Mikado, the piece struck a chord and soon protesters gathered at the theatre and a range of community groups joined the call for the show to be scrapped.

A story on the controversy by All Things Considered, the flagship public radio current affairs program noted that there has recently been several instances of the use of yellow face in pop culture prompting outrage. Commentators on that program were of the view that there was not an increase in the use of yellowface, but it was more noticeable now.

“But this production of The Mikado is still racial caricature. It is still a show where an all-white cast (including two Latinos) plays 40 Japanese roles.  Every snap of the fan was a slap in the face.

“When people of other races don costumes and makeup to play the role of an Asian person, that’s yellowface. Racial caricature — even when done with the purest of artistic motives and sincere love of other cultures — is still racial caricature.


A storm in a teacup.  No word of actual Japanese people objecting.  Japan is big enough to look after itself.  No need for phony Leftist outrage.


Anonymous said...

The Mikado was not of course ever meant to be offensive about the Japanese, but was in fact a satire of British society at the end of the 19th Century by using a fictional oriental setting to make the point.

Anonymous said...

Liberals are professionally outraged on behalf of other people who really don't care.

Anonymous said...

I guess Hollywood should just shut down. Every film they make has actors pretending to be something that they are not. I'm willing to bet the VAST majority of offended protesters were white liberals trying to show the world how how concerned they are.

Anonymous said...

Hum, interesting.
Will they still be able to do Pinafore if they don't use real sailors?
G&S would roll in their graves.

Anonymous said...

Protestors who obviously lead very shallow lives to be able to indulge in such BS. Watch out next time you ride a camel in outback Australia as you will be accused of mocking the Arabs. The court of public opinion is a combination star chamber and kangaroo court.

Stan B said...

Offense By Proxy : The belief that something should be considered offensive to someone else, the internalizing of that outrage, and the understanding that if the other person or persons of interest are not outraged, it's because, well you know "those people" are just too simple to understand the outrage they should feel.

Anonymous said...

Cancel all future productions of "The King and I" because the cast is white people playing the parts of Asians almost every time. Basically any play that has minority characters must be cast into the bon fires of political correctness and burned away from our lives so as never to offend anyone again.

Use the Name, Luke said...

I'm not familiar with this particular play. Do they have the characters using traditional Japanese theatrical makeup, dress, etc.?

Anonymous said...

if you are offended, don't go see it and it will die away.

WTF is it with these always offended busybodies?

Anonymous said...

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.

The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

- C. S. Lewis

Bird of Paradise said...

During WW II the japanses were portraid with big toothy smiles and big round glasses