After Sharon Pian Chan’s column, the defenders of the practice of yellow-face (white actors playing Asian characters with the aid of make-up, costumes and stereotypes) have leaped up in defense of Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s yellow-face production. Mike Storie and Gene Ma have written a guest editorial, defending this production, saying that “The Mikado” “can be a catalyst for better understanding”, but the only way this could be a catalyst for better understanding is if the society actually listened to the many, many complaints (not just Chan’s column) that have poured in.
Sadly, if this piece and the response on their own website is any indication, they’ve chosen to ignore us all by willfully misunderstanding what the anger is about: White people mincing around in grossly stereotypical portrayals of Japanese cartoons. If Gilbert and Sullivan had set this play in Africa, would they have white actors jumping around with black-face and bones through their noses? And if they did, would they be surprised that an entire community was angry at their insensitivity? And would they dare try to teach us all by continuing to perform the play in black-face while telling us that this is a catalyst for better understanding while ignoring our calls for a response?
I seriously doubt it because the African-American community would not let them get away with it. I believe it’s time for the Asian-American community to make it clear that we won’t, either. It’s time for the practice of yellow-face to end and it’s time that producers understand that it is every bit as offensive to most Asian Americans as black-face is to most African Americans.
Ken Narasaki, Venice, Calif.