The Asian American Performers Action Coalition is protesting a decision by Dallas Summer Musicals to cast a white actor as the lead in the classic The King & I, reports Broadway World.
Coincidentally, the controversy comes as a Broadway production of the same play will feature an all-Asian cast in all the Asian roles.
“A transgression like this from a theatre of this size, caliber and reputation legitimizes yellowface casting everywhere,” the national group AAPAC wrote to its membership. “We believe this is not just a local Dallas issue, but a national one.”
In an open letter to Dallas Summer Musicals, AAPAC wrote:
“While there is a historical precedent for white actors playing this role, this precedent was the product of a long history of yellowface casting that is no longer acceptable today. The perpetuation of this practice is hurtful to Asians and disdainful to many others…
“You recently sent out a casting breakdown specifically seeking Asians (as well as more Caucasians) for supporting and ensemble roles. The optics of your production would suggest that Asian actors are suitable only for smaller roles, to kowtow to the King but not to be the King…
“The director of your production, Glenn Casale, cast a Caucasian actor in an Asian role without holding auditions for any actor of Asian descent. This is, then, partly a fight for equal access to opportunity, but we are also addressing the larger social, political, moral and artistic ramifications of yellowface casting and an underlying bias about who has the right to play which roles. We could not find any evidence of an Asian actor who has played a leading role in any previous Dallas Summer Musical production that was not a touring production. It seems that while Caucasian actors can play Asians, the opposite, an Asian actor in a traditionally Caucasian role, does not hold true in equal measure at your institution.”
You can read the entire letter here.
You can watch an interview with Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara talk about the Broadway revival of the King & I opening this spring at the Lincoln Center Theater below.
(This post is updated to correct the name of AAPAC).