Friday 15th December 2017,

Bad Ass Asians

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Broadway World: All Asian American Production of Showboat Cancelled After Racial Uproar

posted by Randall

National Asian Artists projectAn all Asian American production of the classic Broadway hit Showboat has been cancelled due to a racial uproar, reported Broadway World.

The National Asian Artists Project in New York has produced a number of all Asian American interpretations of American classics including Oliver (pictured), but Showboat with its theme of racial discrimination against African Americans in the late 1800s and early 1900s struck a raw nerve with some.

In a statement the project said:

“We spoke with, and listened purposefully to members of racially diverse communities and particularly with our most direct constituents, Asian Americans, regarding how tackling this work might be perceived when the Asian presence is thrust into the center of a conversation that has historically excluded it. After carefully absorbing arguments of both support and opposition, we have chosen to cancel the production, concluding that the goal that propelled us – to lift up the Asian American theater artist – could not be sufficiently achieved.”

Among one of the most vocal critics of the planned NAAP production was Asian American actress Erin Quill. In her blog  Fairy Princess Diaries,  Quill wrote:

“This show is a show about the great racial divides within the Deep South — divides that are, without question, Black and White. It does not matter that Asian Americans were in the United States at this time, we were not ‘toting that barge’ or ‘lifting that bale’. Asian Americans were not recovering from being ripped from their homeland and bound in chains due to the color of their skin. It is not ‘our’ story to tell. Ever. Nor is Ragtime, or Hairspray, or Memphis, or The Color Purple and so forth and so on….RACE MATTERS IN SHOW BOAT. SHOW BOAT IS A SHOW THAT IS DEFINED BY RACE. SHOW BOAT IS A SHOW WHERE RACE IS THE REASON THE ACTION MOVES FORWARD.”

Quill thanked NAAP for listening to the concerns of the Asian American Broadway community.




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One Comment

  1. fliptokyo says:

    RE: All Asian American production of Showboat Cancelled After Racial Uproad: I’m appalled by the brouhaha over the all-Asian production of Show Boat. I’m no fan of color-blind casting and wouldn’t put a white or Asian actor as Joe in a traditional production. But this production is all-Asian, a completely different matter. It basically eliminates the visual element of race and allows us (or forces us) to look at the story in a different light. I see nothing disrespectful about that. It’s about acting, not about race. The blogger’s contention that this is “erasing African Americans” from their history is absurd.

    The blogger cites Hairspray as a show that should be reserved for black actors. Here’s a comment on that show by the composer Marc Shaiman, lyricist Scott Wittman and book writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan:

    “If the production of Hairspray you are about to see tonight features folks whose skin color doesn’t match the characters (not unlike how Edna has been traditionally played by a man), we ask that you use the timeless theatrical concept of ‘suspension of disbelief’ and allow yourself to witness the story and not the racial background (or gender) of the actors. Our show is, after all, about not judging books by their covers! If the direction and the actors are good (and they had better be!) you will still get the message loud and clear. And hopefully have a great time receiving it!”

    Maybe I’m too desensitized to this being in Tokyo, where a friend, a black American singer who’s become popular here, played in a major production of Memphis just a few weeks ago along with an otherwise entirely Japanese cast and had a blast. Plenty of shows with major black characters have been done here – Once On This Island, The Wiz (which is playing now) – and they have always been produced with great care and sensitivity. As it happens, a Japanese version of none other than Showboat is opening this week, beating the NAAP to it.

    More to the point, would Asians object to an all-black version of The King & I? Not blacks in a full Broadway production, but a production for an all-black group dedicated to giving them a shot at the great roles of the musical canon. I’ve always thought an all-black version of 1776 would be instructive, since it would signal that such “white” history is as much a part of their cultural heritage as slavery. (Now there’s a great show for NAAP to tackle.) It’s theater, for God’s sake; nobody up there is real. And the reverse should be true as well: as long as there’s no overt blackface or such, I don’t see the problem at all with an all-Asian show.

    To be fair, I suspect that black audiences would have been a lot more tolerant of this show than this blogger gives them credit for. She seems to have no idea what NAAP is trying to achieve. (I can’t believe she posted a Korean minstrel show as an example – is she serious?? And she couldn’t find anyone at all who didn’t agree with her arguments? She moves in narrow circles.) It was especially pathetic of her to post large pictures of Tommy Tune and Baayork Lee, who have given their lives to theater, as if they were villains, no matter what her text says.

    I’m not associated with NAAP, have spent most of my life in Tokyo, and am neither Asian nor black. But I do love theater, and find it sad that this beautiful show is being reduced to a history lesson rather than a universal plea for tolerance, a side that an All-Asian cast might have highlighted. The obsession with race is destructive and divisive. Will Americans ever get past the color of their skins?

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