Yellowface is nothing new. But people seem unable to leave it behind as an embarrassment of the past. The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year with a production of the operetta duo’s classic “The Mikado.” Except, writes Jeff Yang over at CNN:
It is the most frequently staged of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas and a perennial favorite of the Society. Every time, they have done it the same way: As a photocopy of the Victorian original, with Caucasian actors wearing garish facepaint and outfits that cartoonishly approximate traditional Japanese garb.
[T]hese “traditional” productions — yellowface productions — of “The Mikado” have to end.
They are the deep-drilled root of the yellowface weed: the place from which the scourge keeps springing back, even when its surface expressions are plucked. There are older examples of yellowface in entertainment than “The Mikado,” but none so popular, and certainly none that have been as popular among mass audiences for as long — 129 years and counting.
I want to be clear that I’m not saying that “The Mikado” shouldn’t be performed at all.
Its biting satire and splendidly silly stage play make it quite possibly Gilbert and Sullivan’s greatest work. But when it is performed by an all-white troupe of actors dressed and made up as Asians, it shifts from a brilliant comedy of manners to, as Asian-American actress and blogger Erin Quill says, a “racist piece of crap.”
Read the rest of Yang’s piece at CNN.