A production of Thoroughly Modern Millie at a Massachusetts high school fell way short of addressing Asian American stereotypes despite discussions with the Office of Human Rights and concerned members of the Asian American community, blogs Mia Wenjen in I Love Newton.
(Scene from movie Thoroughly Modern Millie)
The show at Newton North High School included a white actress disguised as a Chinese women using heavily accented English and yellowface make up.
Asian males are portrayed as participating in the sale of white women into slavery.
A disclaimer in the program fails to adequately address the concerns over the images portrayed of Asian Americans and promises of being an “effective conversation starter” into these images appears to be only lip service.
The disclaimer read in part:
“Thoroughly Modern Millie contains extreme negative stereotypes and offensive attitudes when depicting Asian men and women in the 1920s. However, instead of simply flashing a disclaimer along the stage before the opening number, Mr. Brown, Ms. Leong, Ms. Beh, and I worked together with the Office of Human Rights to figure out a way in which to maintain the integrity of the production, while addressing these negative images head on with the community and our students. Over the past few months we have participated in discussions regarding stereotypical images of Asian men and women in the media. We participated in panels that spoke out against stereotypes and damaging images of cultural experiences within the media. We learned about the Geisha image, and the overtly sexualized Dragon Lady. We learned about the submissive Asian male stereotype, and the Kung-Foo warrior image. Consequently, some of these images will appear within our production this evening.”
Yes, you read all that right. All these images are racist, offensive and negative. Yet they remain in the production “to maintain the integrity of the production.”
You can read Mia Wenjen’s extensive take of all this in I Love Newton.