HomeChinese AmericanYellowface Casting Controversy Erupts in Houston

Yellowface Casting Controversy Erupts in Houston

Houston Grand Opera
Photo by Houston Grand Opera

500,000 Asian Americans live in Houston. They are the fastest growing ethnic population in the city.

Yet the Houston Grand Opera seems to be stuck in a different time.

It’s new production of Nixon in China features White actors in Asian roles.

The Houston Chronicle describes the portrayal of those characters as with “Fu Manchu facial hair, slanted eyebrows. conical rice hats. Kung Fu uniforms and traditional Chinese masks.”
 
In the production Mao Zedong is played by Chad Shelton, soprano Tracy Dahl plays Madame Mao and Patrick Carfizzi, is an evil Chinese landlord. Chen-Ye Yuan is the only Asian actor in a significant role, co-starring as Premiere Zhou En-Lai.
 
“Blackface/yellowface/brownface is an abhorrent practice that should be abolished, and operas should be taking action towards abolishing those practices, instead of making excuses,” said Diep Tran of American Theatre magazine.

The Grand Opera said it had no intention to portray Chinese as caricatures and said no Asians could be found to fill those roles.

Houston Grand Opera
Photo by Houston Grand Opera

“It’s possible someone could make a stink about it and say it’s culturally demeaning. But that would mean people in China couldn’t do Verdi or Wagner,” said the show’s composer John Adams.

To that Tran says “if you don’t do the work, then you’re using art to justify whitewashing, erasure and the continued marginalization of people of color.”

OCA-Greater Houston put it bluntly.

“It’s a negative stereotype of Asian Americans. I’m surprised this still happens nowadays,” said the group’s president Cecil Fong. “This is not OK.”
 
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