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July 29, 2014 at 6:17 AM

MSNBC coverage of ‘The Mikado’ and stereotypes on stage

If you missed it on Sunday, MSNBC aired a news segment about the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of “The Mikado” and the controversy about its use of yellowface, using non-Asian actors to portray all 40 Asian roles.

The MSNBC segment is worth watching if you were not able to attend a show before it ended its run on July 26.  Anchor Richard Lui covered the story from Seattle, capturing footage of the performance and the protest outside the Bagley Wright Theatre before the show began. He interviewed producer Mike Storie and a member of the Japanese American Citizens League.


The controversy began after my July 14 column, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.” I later blogged about the experience of watching the show in an Opinion Northwest post. Our letters to the editor blog Northwest Voices published perspectives from many readers.

If this makes you go, “Hmmmmm,” and you want to dive deeper into the topic, here is more reading than you could possibly handle in a single sitting, sparked by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of “The Mikado.” If you spot other writing worth sharing, please let me know at schan@seattletimes.com or let me know on Twitter @sharonpianchan

Northwest Asian Weekly's July 26-Aug. 1, 2014 issue cover featured a news story about protests at "The Mikado" show at Seattle's Bagley Wright Theatre (Photo by Sharon Pian Chan / Seattle Times)

Northwest Asian Weekly’s July 26-Aug. 1, 2014 issue cover featured a news story about protests at “The Mikado” show at Seattle’s Bagley Wright Theatre (Photo by Sharon Pian Chan / Seattle Times)

News coverage:

NBCNews.com: “Stereotypes in ‘The Mikado’ Stir Controversy in Seattle

Northwest Asian Weekly: ” ‘Yellowface’ controversy over the ‘The Mikado’ — Gilbert & Sullivan opera incites protest”

WQRX, the New York classical music rado station, news story: ” ‘Asian blackface’ in ‘The Mikado” stirs controversy in Seattle”

Statements by community groups:

Seattle Repertory Theatre announced community dialogue for Aug. 18: Artistic freedom vs. artistic responsibility

Japanese American Citizens League: JACL Objects to Usage of Yellowface and Stereotypes in Seattle Production of The Mikado

OCA Greater Seattle on “The Mikado”

Chinese American Citizens Alliance: “Yellowface in 2014? Is It 2014 or 1914?”

Radio interviews:

Mikado cast member and KIRO Radio host Dave Ross and I debated the issue on his show: “Seattle Times editorial columnist and Dave Ross go head-to-head over “yellow face” in “The Mikado”

Ron and Don Show on KIRO Radio: “Seattle Times columnist says opera starring Dave Ross is racist”

Opinion commentary:

Seattle Times guest opinion by Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society Producer Mike Storie and Board member Gene Ma: ” ‘The Mikado’ is worth performing.” (Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley and I personally invited supporters of the show to submit guest opinion offering a different perspective from my column.)

Seattle Times guest opinion by artistic director Rick Shiomi, who created a 2013 Minneapolis version of “The Mikado” without stereotypes or yellowface acting: “Making ‘The Mikado’ without Asian stereotypes”

Letters to the editor representing multiple perspectives in our Northwest Voices blog. Ken Narasaki, who co-wrote a play called “The Mikado Project,” contributed one of the letters.

CNN.com guest commentary by Jeff Yang: “Yellowface staging of ‘Mikado’ has to end”

Angry Asian Man blog: “Real-life yellowface! Now playing in Seattle”

Seattle Times commentary by theater critic Misha Berson: “The ‘Mikado’ controversy: A call for calm discourse”

International Examiner editorial board: ” ‘The Mikado’ controversy an opportunity to create and educate”

Atlantic Media’s Quartz commentary by Gwynn Guilford: “It’s time to stop using ‘exoticism’ as an excuse for opera’s racism”

Stranger commentary by Brendan Kiley: The problem with The Mikado

ReAppropriate guest post by Sean Miura: “Undoing ‘Mikado’: Japan is not an imaginary place, and I am not a metaphor”

The You Offend Me You Offend My Family blog has a humor take (I approve of the KKK and apocalypse scenarios in this humor post): “6 Times When it’s OK for white people to don yellow face”

Actress Erin Quill writes her own lyrics for a song from “The Mikado” on her blog: “I have ‘A Little List’ too — buckle up”

Actress Lucy Sheen, on a personal blog, responds to the KIRO Radio debate with Dave Ross where he asks whether Japanese actors who wear kabuki-theater makeup are playing Caucasian roles: “Kabuki is NOT white face”

Bo Lim, an associate professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University, used “The Mikado” to discuss about stereotypes still used in evangelical teachings in a post for the Sojourners website: “Why Evangelicals Should Care About ‘The Mikado’ Controversy If They Care About Reconciliation in the Church”

Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, mikado

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