A poster for 'The Mikado.'
A poster for ‘The Mikado.’

The following is a letter from the National Chinese American Citizens Alliance regarding the recent Seattle production of The Mikado:

Chinese American Citizens Alliance sees the current production of The Mikado in Seattle as continuing the stereotyping and harmful rhetoric toward Asian Americans, even to the point of using “yellow face” to simulate Asian participation when “black face” has long been eliminated from legitimate theatre. First produced in 1885 only three years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, The Mikado was Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular comic opera. It has been widely produced in film and play throughout the world, by professionals and amateurs from national theaters to high schools. But today in 2014 in its current format at the Bagley Wright Theater in Seattle, it is time to end its run and consign it to historical dust pin, along with other racially insensitive pulp.

Many critics today have singled out the “yellow face” aspect of having white actors play the 40 Asian characters in the play. However, The Mikado is not acceptable even if all the actors were replaced with Asians. Although the counter-critics point out that the play was never intended to satire the Japanese but to be a satire of English Victorian society, modernizations of the play to place it into an English setting have not prevented the consistent return (as in the Seattle production) to Japanese clothing and facial make-up. As one critic observed, however, when the Japanese features are stripped away from the play, the audience is left with characters that have silly names and the inexplicable premise of a political entity that makes flirting a crime subject to beheading or boiling in oil. It becomes an entertaining play because of the exotic Japanese caricatures of the society and its people. The actors of whatever color playing them today, perpetuate those caricatures.

When Gilbert and Sullivan were writing their material, it was not unacceptable to have white actors paint their faces black and shuffle onto the stage to entertain largely white audiences. But, what was seen as acceptable then does not justify its continuation today, whether black or yellow. What is truly disappointing about the Seattle reprise of The Mikado is that anyone today, especially living in a region where Japanese Americans were rounded up during World War II and Chinese Americans were killed or driven out in the 1800s, should be so insensitive to dangers of stereotyping in public performances and to have not realized how offensive this play is before they started production. One would have thought that we Americans would have grown in the 130-plus years since Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the play.

—Chinese American Citizens Alliance

Edmond J. Gor

National Executive Vice President
Davace Chin

National Vice President Planning
Paul V. Wong

National Vice President Membership
Helen L. Ying

National Vice President Communications
Rusty Chan

National Secretary
Ted Gong

VP, Civic & Public Affairs
Felicia Yu

National Assistant Secretary
Faye Woo Lee

National Treasurer
Melanie Chan

National Compliance Officers
William Mei Joanna Tom

Richard Fong

Joan Sung

National Executives
Albert G. Fong
Robert Gin
Mike Fong
Susan Dickson
Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman
Elaine Wong

Thomas Lee
Lisa Yang
Warren Seeto
Jack Joe
Rudy Yee

Regional Executives
Virginia Gee
Betty Jean Lee
Linda Lee
John Moy
Siu Wong

Past National Presidents
Nowland C. Hong
Harold Y.G. Fong
Harry W. Low
Nancy A. Gee
Saykin Foo
Munson A. Kwok
Carolyn H. Chan

Related Stories:

OCA on ‘The Mikado’: Thank you Sharon Pian Chan for standing up

Editorial Board: ‘The Mikado’ controversy an opportunity to create and educate

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