A Rogers and Hammerstein operetta in New York City, The Mikado, was recently cancelled when it cast white actors to play Japanese characters. While in 1885 the portrayal of white, British actors living in Japan was deemed satire, people now deem it racist.
This outrage calls into question the modern idea of color blind casting, in which a role is cast without considering the ethnicity of an actor or actress.
Color blind casting is becoming increasingly common in the theatrical world. Some examples include a production of Othello featuring Patrick Stewart as the lead, and a version Death of a Salesman with Charles Dutton as a black Willy Loman. While race may not have been central to these characters, colorblind casting calls into question the role of race in theater.
Times have changed since 1885, and The Mikado’s casting is more difficult to swallow. Issues of race and privilege cannot be ignored
Unfortunately, as we work to protect the identity and safety of the individual, we must confront stereotypes from the past. The ideas regarding race cited throughout The Mikado by white actors and actresses open old wounds, and each successive line serves to add salt to those wounds.
This sort of pain varies for each person, but it can be avoided. Cancelling The Mikado in NYC was certainly progress, but there is more work to do.
During Orientation Week for the Class of 2019, guest speaker Maura Cullen gave a motivational speech about taking adversity out of diversity. There was a part of her speech that, ironically, related to the situation regarding cancellation of The Mikado. Cullen said a person may have an “intention of humor, but the un-intention of racism.”
As I recall these words from Cullen, I realized that the producers of The Mikado may have tried to create an operetta for people to enjoy and to analyze a different culture through their own perception and biases.
However it is not their place to show such harsh stereotypes, even if they were “unintentional.”
It is unfortunate that a 130 year-old play was cancelled, but it is also unfortunate that it took viewers that long to realize that this operetta is offesnive to some. It is crucially important to be careful with our words and actions regarding race.
TheMikado objectified Asian men and women with its stereotypes for 130 years. That must not be allowed to continue. We must confront racial issues while eliminating offensive aspects of our culture.