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You are currently viewing all posts written by Sharon Pian Chan. Sharon is the associate opinions editor / digital. Follow her on Twitter @sharonpianchan.

August 19, 2014 at 7:03 AM

Mikado, yellowface debate at Seattle Repertory Theatre forum

Corrected version

Should historic works created during different times with different sensibilities be shelved? Should the work be altered? Can the work be done if proper context is provided? How often do you see representations of people who look like you on a regular basis? (No. Yes. Yes. Almost never.)

These were just a few of the questions asked at a Monday night forum on theater and race sparked by a recent Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society production of “The Mikado” that cast 40 non-Asian actors in Japanese roles. The event, “Artistic Freedom and Artistic Responsibility,” featured a panel of theater artists and was organized by the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, the city’s Office for Civil Rights and King County’s cultural-services agency 4Culture. In addition to the panelists, the discussion drew in discussion from audience members who had submitted comments in advance.

Seattle Channel plans to broadcast the video. Many artists in other cities who could not attend the event watched a livestream and discussed it on Twitter with the hashtag #SeattleAFAR. Here is video from Howlround.

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I first wrote about the problematic production in a Seattle Times column four weeks ago, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.” The column sparked a national debate — community groups like the JACL spoke out against the show, protesters demonstrated outside most of the shows, national outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR and CBC covered it, and influential bloggers like Angry Asian Man and Reappropriate wrote about it. Read, watch and listen to all the coverage at ” ‘The Mikado,’ yellowface: All the coverage.”


Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, race

August 19, 2014 at 6:02 AM

‘The Mikado,’ yellowface: All the coverage

The controversy about a Seattle “Mikado” production began with my July 14 Seattle Times column, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.” My Opinion Northwest blog post about the experience of watching the show: ” ‘The Mikado,’ yellowface and seeing the Seattle show” If you spot other writing worth sharing, please let me know at…


Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, race

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.

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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 or let me know on Twitter @sharonpianchan


Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, mikado

July 27, 2014 at 5:04 AM

Chat rewind: Readers discuss Prop. 1 to create Seattle Park District

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Want to talk about Proposition 1 to create a Seattle Park District? The proposition on the Aug. 5 ballot would create a Seattle Park District to fund the city’s park system.

Join us for a live chat on Tuesday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. with panelists who support and oppose the Proposition.


Don Harper, part of the Our Parks Forever campaign, opposes the passage of Proposition 1.

Brad Kahn, the board chair of the Seattle Parks Foundation, is a volunteer on the Seattle Parks For All campaign that supports the passage of Proposition 1.

Thanh Tan, multimedia editorial writer, who has covered Proposition 1 for the editorial board.

Others who will be on the chat:


Comments | More in Live chats | Topics: parks, primary election 2014, Seattle

July 25, 2014 at 6:16 AM

‘The Mikado,’ yellowface and seeing the Seattle show

Mikado Seattle

Actress Alexa Jarvis in the role of Yum-Yum in the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s “The Mikado” (Photo by Ray Welch / Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society)

After seeing the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of “The Mikado” on Sunday, it’s clear why so many people enjoy this opera. Anyone who likes a Disney musical would appreciate the pretty melodies. The slapstick comedy drew lots of laughs. The acting, singing and production were all high quality.

But this production of “The Mikado” is still racial caricature. It is still a show where an all-white cast (including 2 Latinos) plays 40 Japanese roles.  Every snap of the fan was a slap in the face.

When people of other races don costumes and makeup to play the role of an Asian person, that’s yellowface. Racial caricature — even when done with the purest of artistic motives and sincere love of other cultures — is still racial caricature.

It is difficult to spend three hours watching people of another race mimic its idea of what your own race is supposedly like. It’s an emotionally wrenching, viscerally exhausting experience. If you don’t feel that discomfort, consider yourself privileged.

The show makes sense as satire about Victorian British Society. It makes zero sense why this satire about the British is set in Japan. If it’s not about Japan, then why does it need to be set there at all?

If librettist W.S. Gilbert intended, when he wrote “The Mikado” in the late 1800s, to set an opera in a place no one knew, then it’s now time to reset this opera in the “Game of Thrones” kingdom of Westeros, in the inscrutable offices of the NSA or the Marvel kingdom of Thor. It’s not just the racial caricatures that are disappointing. The production lacks innovation. It reflects little of the creative, cutting-edge theater for which Seattle is known. It’s an embarrassing anachronism in a global city in a trade-dependent state on the Pacific Rim.

This conversation began with my July 14 column, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.”



Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, mikado

July 19, 2014 at 5:03 AM

Chat rewind: Is Amazon the bully or the hero?

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times Replay our Wednesday live chat discussing “Is Amazon the bully or the hero?” in the contract dispute with publisher Hachette Book Group. Want to find out more about what’s going on in this battle of the titans? Check out our guest columns featuring opposing views from authors Frank Schaeffer, who says Amazon…


Comments | More in Live chats | Topics: Amazon, live chat

June 27, 2014 at 11:34 AM

Video: A debate about gun initiatives I-591 and I-594

Corrected version Confused about the two state initiatives coming in the Nov. 4 election about gun control and gun rights? Check out our editorial board interviews with supporters and opponents of Initiative 591 and Initiative 594. TVW produced video of the interviews. Initiative 591 would prevent Washington state from background checks for gun buyers that are stricter…


Comments | Topics: gun control, initiative 591, initiative 594

June 23, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Rewind: Video hangout on survival after college

Are you a recent college graduate? Wondering how you’re going to find a job and support yourself? From the changing nature of internships and job advancement, to crushing student debt and moving back in with parents, this generation of graduates faces many hurdles.

Join our on-air video hangout on Google+ on Tuesday at noon to discuss the challenges facing this generation of graduates and possible solutions.

This is an open hangout, which means anyone can join as a participant with a Web cam. Please keep in mind that this is an on-air hangout and your comments and images will be broadcast on The Seattle Times website, Youtube and Google+. The Seattle Times Terms of Service apply to this hangout.


Comments | More in Live chats, Video | Topics: college, unemployment

June 17, 2014 at 6:18 AM

Jorge Carrasco, Huffington Post and the financial interests of guest writers

On Monday, The Huffington Post removed an article written as part of a paid campaign to scrub Seattle City Light Chief Executive Jorge Carrasco’s online image, according to a Politics Northwest blog post. Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner wrote about the effort, which City Light paid for, in a Sunday news story.

The Seattle Times opinion section publishes guest columns, aka op-eds, that are written by community members. You’ll spot them by the “Special to the Times” under their bylines.

Screenshot from a guest column in The Seattle Times.

Screenshot from a guest column in The Seattle Times. Community members are identified as “Special to the Times” under their bylines.

These opinion columns help build a forum for respectful, civil debate about the local issues of the day. (For more about submitting op-eds, check out The Seattle Times’ op-ed guidelines.)

How does the opinion section handle financial interests? Before The Seattle Times publishes a guest opinion column, our editors explicitly ask writers through a written form whether they have a financial interest in the outcome of their arguments. If a writer does have a financial interest, he or she is expected to disclose it and our editors have a discussion with the writer. If we decide to move forward with publication, we figure out a way to be transparent with readers about the financial interest.


Comments | Topics: city of seattle, journalism, seattle city light

June 11, 2014 at 6:13 AM

The troubling loss of press freedom in China, Thailand

Session on press freedom in Asia at New.Now.Next media conference in Hong Kong on June 7, 2014. (Photo by Sharon Pian Chan / Seattle Times)

Session on press freedom at New.Now.Next media conference in Hong Kong on June 7, 2014. (Photo by Sharon Pian Chan / Seattle Times)

HONG KONG – In February, Hong Kong journalist Kevin Lau was stabbed by two men as he was getting out of his car. The trial of two suspects is about to begin and many believe Lau was targeted because of his work as editor of the Ming Pao daily newspaper.

Lau’s attack raised the alarm on restrictions to press freedom in Asia. Freedom of the press is a proxy for individual liberty. If a government cannot tolerate media criticism, it’s unlikely to stomach citizen protests, criticism from individuals or even an individual’s right to meet with others and discuss government problems.

Lau, who is now learning how to walk again, spoke in a videotaped interview that aired Sunday at the New.Now.Next media conference in Hong Kong, organized by the Asian American Journalists Association Asia chapter and Hong Kong University’s Journalism & Media Studies Centre. Lau called on police to continue investigating who ordered the attack. Here is a video of Lau’s interview, produced by Hong Kong University’s journalism center.

His attack shook many in Hong Kong, where press freedoms are protected, unlike China. In the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square on June 4, Chinese government imprisoned dozens of dissidents, according to an AP news story. China does not allow public discussion of the 1989 protests, when soldiers killed hundreds of democracy protesters. Imagine if the U.S. government imposed a blackout of media coverage on Sept. 11 anniversary coverage. (Hong Kong media, which is protected by freedom of the press provisions, covered the anniversary extensively.)


Comments | Topics: asia, China, journalism

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