Thursday, December 22, 2011

Broadway show Anything Goes is racist

Yesterday, I caught the matinee performance of Anything Goes now playing at the Stephen Sondheim (formerly Henry Miller) theater. The Sondheim theater, refurbished and modernized in 2005, is a sleek, comfortable venue. The 2011 Tony Award-winning revival is a richly crafted production, and the leads and supporting cast delivered polished performances. Sutton Foster, playing Reno Sweeney, justified her reputation as a top Broadway star. Foster impressed as a musical theater actress at the top of her game with a demanding display of her acting, singing, and dancing triple-threat abilities.

And oh, by the way, Anything Goes is racist.

Andrew Cao and Raymond J. Lee portray a pair of newly Christian-converted Chinese gamblers named "Luke" and "John" ("Ching" and "Ling" in the original 1934 production). Luke and John are early-20th-century Chinese caricatures with stereotyped garb, speech, and behavior, and serve as comic foils for the non-Asian main characters. In Luke and John's final scene, they are duped into giving their Chinese clothes to cellmates Moonface Martin and Billy Crocker, so they in turn can act out the final racist wedding scene. Raymond J. Lee's John, in particular, is a painful display of yellow face (our version of black face).

It's bad enough when non-Asians or non-American Asians perpetuate anti-Asian racism in American popular culture, but it's disgusting when our Asian American brothers and sisters actively participate in betraying their own. I don't understand how Raymond J. Lee can look himself in the mirror after his nightly betrayal of Asian men. Maybe he's paid a lot. Maybe Asian actors are grateful for any stage role, no matter how demeaning, that's set aside for Asian actors. Maybe Lee can't afford to turn down a job on a top Broadway show. Maybe Lee, who is Korean, rationalizes that he's insulting Chinese men every day rather than Korean men.



Anonymous Raymond J. Lee said...

Actually we worked very hard to make these stereotypically racist characters as sensitive as possible. This material is quite dated and there were actual lines that were changed due to their "racist" nature. I can definitely look at myself in the mirror because I am one of the few Asian actors out there trying to make a difference. Before you insult someone as myself, who has worked hard and DOES care about portraying Asian roles as sensitively as possible, do some research about the source material and stop assuming. Or get to know somebody before you bad mouth them without knowing anything about what they go through as an Actor in today's supposedly "modern" times.

12/23/2011 2:03 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

I don't need to research to know my own reaction as a member of your audience.

Mine is just one reaction from one Asian American member of your audience. It's possible every other Asian American member of your audience has praised you for the sensitivity of your portrayal. And perhaps, the non-Asian members of your audience are actually laughing at the irony of your character. I doubt it, but that's just my opinion.

12/23/2011 7:44 PM  
Anonymous Paul Rain said...

It does seem pretty sad that in a world where one can see a somewhat absurd afrocentric take on Shakespeare, crass 19th century stereotypes of 'Orientals' are still being played up on the stage.

1/09/2012 11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an African American woman and I recently took my 11 year old daughter to a high school performance of the musical. We live in a predominantly white, but rather multicultural community. During the Chinese scenes, my daughter immediately looked at me and said "That's racist!" I agreed and was glad she was sensitive to the matter. I absolutely cringed during the wedding scene with the white young men "acting Chinese." I absolutely thought it was the Asian version of blackface. I was disappointed in my school district - I wondered if they had a conversation about the stereotypes with the young actors and actresses.
We've still got a long way to go - and by "we" I mean ALL under- and mis-represented people of color.
We need to speak out against these portrayals.

4/26/2012 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a high school production of the play last night and had the very same reaction. In an otherwise spectular and impressive production, I was appalled to see the portrayal of Asian characters in such a demeaning stereotypical fashion. I was with my daugher, who is from Vietnam and a group of students visiting from Japan and I was horrified.

3/24/2013 9:41 AM  

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