A New Play, ‘White Pearl,’ Explores Colorism Among Asians

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Nov 01, 2019

“A leaked ad for skin-whitening cream is going viral for all the wrong reasons,” reads the website description for the play “White Pearl,” “a twisted corporate comedy about selling Whiteness and the ugliness of the beauty industry.” Written by Anchuli Felicia King, a Thai Australian playwright, “White Pearl” finished a stint in London earlier this year and is coming stateside to the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. The play will run from November 6 to December 8. 

“One of the things this play explores is how the beauty industry monetizes women’s shame. It exploits oppressive beauty standards around the world,” King told NBC News in an article published October 31. “There is a culturally specific set of social dynamics around Whiteness, among many Asian communities.”

The plot, which is based on a Singapore cosmetics company that sells Whiteness and gets into trouble after a racist ad is leaked, explores the shame that surrounds Asian Americans around their identities. “Colonial thinking exacerbates color lines,” Joanne L. Rondilla, an assistant professor of Asian American studies at San Jose State University, reportedly told NBC. “A lot of skin-lightening products in Asia are marketed with language that centers on ‘perfection,’ sending the message that the prospective users, as they are now, are not valued. It’s infuriating.” 

To that end, the casting is diverse and anchored; five of the seven actors have lived in the cities that their characters are from and the director, Desdemona Chiang, encouraged them to use their accents. “The play depicts intra-racial racism using six different Asians of varying backgrounds, skin tones and English proficiencies,” said Chiang. “We wanted to cast appropriately so these cultural nuances can be reflected on stage.”

To learn more about the play, visit the Studio Theatre’s website here