racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS is Thoroughly Racist

Let me start by saying that I am Asian American and that I moved to Newton more than ten years ago because it has a decent sized Asian American population. That is important to me because being the only Asian American can result in significant bullying (as evidenced by my husband who grew up in town with a much smaller Asian population).  As a result, my Korean American husband got very good at street fighting in order to defend himself against bullies and racial insults.

I personally have not seen Thoroughly Modern Millie but I was a recent high school benefit where I first heard of the Anti-Asian stereotyping in Thoroughly Modern Millie.* In its defense, it was written more than four decades ago when Asians were never seen in the media, and if so, only in derogatory stereotypes.

*Here is my post after seeing the show.

 

Think Calgon commercial and Ancient Chinese Secret:

But the Calgon commercial isn’t nearly as offensive to me as the Anti-Asian stereotyping of Thoroughly Modern Millie. So let’s take a look.

 

Asian Stereotypes in Thoroughly Modern Millie

These are the two Asian parts in Thoroughly Modern Millie. In the original movie script, they are described as Oriential #1 and Oriental #2. These parts were rewritten in the Broadway musical:

Ching Ho: Chinese henchman, falls in love with Miss Dorothy.
Bun Foo: Chinese henchman, focused more on the task at hand.

The musical has since become a popular choice for high school productions. Wikipedia

It was pointed out to me by a Chinese American that Ching Ho and Bun Foo are not even real Chinese names. In rewriting the film into the 2002 musical, you may as well as kept them as Oriental #1 and Oriental #2. While supposedly the henchman roles were given backstories and rich characters, calling them by fake Sing Song Chinese names only fuels and rage and hurt that Asians and Asian Americans feel while sitting in the audience.

 

Here are some other posts on racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

The Dalton School removed the racism from their production of Thoroughly Modern Millie:

The New York Times reports that Manhattan private school Dalton Middle School announced today that it would be moving forward with a previously cancelled production of the musical THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE with a new, revised version approved by the show’s creators.

The musical was originally canceled due to “concerns about the show’s use of Asian stereotypes and a subplot involving a white slavery ring in China”. The original plan had been to replace ‘MILLIE’ with a revue of the songs. But now the revised version will “drop references to Asia, change the names of two Chinese characters, and describe incidents of human trafficking as simple kidnappings.” From Broadway World

Dick Scanlan, the lyricist and co-book writer of “Millie,” said in an interview on Mondaythat he and the show’s composer, Jeanine Tesori, had approved the school’s sanitized version of “Millie” and suggested some new lyrics and other ideas. Performances of “Millie” will begin this Thursday as originally planned.

“I have given my blessing because, while I understand angry parents, for me heartbroken kids trump angry parents,” Mr. Scanlan said. “The narrative basically remains the same, and Asian girls would play the two roles that were Chinese in the original, though the characters would have common names. What is missing is a deliberate political choice that Michael Mayer, Jeanine, and I made years ago to portray Asian stereotypes and then challenge them in order to bust them.” Mr. Mayer directed the Broadway production.

I have a problem with this because obviously Michael Mayer, Jeanine and Dick Scanlan are not Asian Americans nor did they seem to study Asian American history and therefore wrote a 2002 musical that is historically inaccurate with dated Asian stereotypes. And this is also the rationale that NNHS gives — busting Asian stereotypes. They are using the wrong stereotypes and erasing the history of what actually happened to Asian Americans during the 1920s. We, as Asian Americans, don’t need this kind of help.

The plot in Thoroughly Modern Millie of Asians selling women into white slavery is not accurate and caused a real backlash against Asians and Arabs. In fact, there are many egregious historical inaccuracies that I have a problem with in this new musical retelling.

Based on the 1967 film of the same name, Thoroughly Modern Millie tells the story of a small-town girl, Millie Dillmount, who comes to New York City to marry for money instead of love – a thoroughly modern aim in 1922, when women were just entering the workforce. Millie soon begins to take delight in the flapper lifestyle, but problems arise when she checks into a hotel owned by the leader of a white slavery ring in China. The style of the musical is comic pastiche. Like the film on which it is based, it interpolates new tunes with some previously written songs.

The fierce anger against “white slavery” caused racial profiling of Arabs in Europe and Chinese immigrants in America. While there were some examples of Chinese mafia members engaging in human trafficking during the 1920′s, the sad distortion is that in actuality, many more Asian women and children were and still are trafficked from China and other Asian countries to the United States.

So it is not surprising that many people are offended by Thoroughly Modern Millie’s portrayal of poor Asian immigrants. And considering the wickedness of the crime being discussed, it is not surprising that survivors of human trafficking might also be offended by the play’s comedic treatment of the subject. from The Marginalized

Asian American Theatre Review has issues with this musical and brings up a good point of WHY are we perpetuating racial stereotypes in this century that we know to be harmful and derogatory.

The pair are invariably described as being a politically correct portrayal. Hmm. The original depiction is most definitely stereotyped and offen
sive–yet any variation from it is considered politically correct??? This shows how incredibly empty the term is, and how devalued it has become. When ANY attempt to change an admittedly stereotyped and racist portrayal is termed “politically correct”, it’s time to bury the term. Dammit, isn’t the whole point of our current enlightened times is to avoid being stereotyped and racist when you don’t have to be??? from Asian American Theatre Review

 

Racial stereotypes of Chinese in Thoroughly Modern Millie

I was shocked that this musical contained lots of outdated Chinese stereotypes including:
a Chinese laundry, kidnapping for white slavery, bad Chinese accents, and a female actor in “white face” playing a white woman masquerading as a Chinese woman. Much less culturally sensitive than Robert Downey Jr playing a black man in Tropic Thunder.

Part of the sub-plot is that white girls are sold into white slavery and shipped off to China, by the character of Mrs. Meers, a white woman dressed up as a Chinese woman – who doesn’t even have a proper Chinese accent – She keeps mis-prounouncing her “L’s” as “R’s.”

She keeps saying things like “Ssssso saaaad, to be arrrr arrrrone in dis worrrrld.”

I realize that this is supposed to be a fun frothy romp, and every character is stereotyped to extreme measures …

But I still felt uncomfortable watching the perpetuation of racist stereotypes in this way.  There are many people in today’s audience who don’t realize the origins of such stereotypes, nor the harm that was caused over decades of racism. From Gung Haggis Fat Choy

Seriously, does the movie script say Orientals?!

However, what Millie also features is a staggeringly racist plotline involving [CONTENT WARNING: racist plot described in detail] a hotel owner and her two nameless, menacing Chinese manservants (played by Jack Soo and Pat Morita and credited, appallingly, as Oriental #1 and Oriental #2) selling residents of the hotel into white slavery. Nothing about this plotline is remotely okay, especially given that every scene with the “Orientals” serves to emphasize how alien they are.

Millie was adapted into a stage musical in 2000, which came to Broadway in 2002. I have not seen it, but I do know enough to know that they tried valiantly to rectify the problems with the source material. They (mercifully) cut the Jewish wedding entirely, and they gave Mrs. Meers’ servants names and motivations—one ultimately ends up marrying Miss Dorothy, in the stage show’s most radical departure from the film. But I question why this adaptation even came to be, more than thirty years after the film first premiered. Why it was felt that a film this transparently problematic could—or should!—be turned into a stage show, other than the general momentum stage adaptations of movies have been gaining in the past decade. And lastly, I question whether the changes they made really solved the problem, and I am forced to conclude they almost certainly didn’t. Millie, despite many charming moments, is rotten to the core, and I don’t see a way to solve that problem without making an entirely different show. from Bitch Magazine

 

My question is WHY? Why pick Thoroughly Modern Millie that depicts blatant anti-Asian stereotyping? Why not go with something else or rewrite this script to offend another ethnicity. How about gypsies? Or Eastern Europeans?

It’s now 2014, and Asian Americans still struggle with their portrayal in the media. See this kickstarter video of an Asian American actress and the limited parts — all stereotypes — available to her and other Asian actors.

And let’s ask ourselves … does Thoroughly Modern Millie help today’s Asian Americans or does it hurt us? And if you think Thoroughly Modern Millie does Asian Americans a disservice, then why are we still doing this play in high schools around America?

Let’s discuss this! Please respond by leaving a comment. If you want more ink, please email me your take at pragmaticmomblog@gmail.com and I’ll post it.

Here’s a few questions to start us off:

1) Do you think this play makes Asian American students at Newton North High School uncomfortable?

2) Do you think this play makes Asian American parents or grandparents watching the play uncomfortable?

3) Do you think the Chinese language teachers at Newton North High School would be comfortable with this musical? What about Newton North’s sister exchange school in China?

4) Do you think Asian American stereotyping exists in today’s media? Why or why not? Are they the same as in Thoroughly Modern Millie? If not, what is the benefit of discussing outdated stereotypes?

5) What is the benefit to Asian Americans to have this kind of musical in wide circulation?

6) Are Asian Americans marginalized? If so, what causes that?

racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

p.s. This is from The Newtonite:

The musical’s racist villain, Mrs. Meers, played by senior Kelsey Fox, presented challenges for the show. “There are some images in our show that are going to be offensive,” said English teacher Bradley Jensen, the director. He continued that the whole cast had to “really inform ourselves about the stereotypes that are in our show.”

Asian Culture Day: Asian-Americans in the Media

While I appreciate that effort was made to educate Asian American students at Newton North High School about anti-Asian bias in the media, I am surprised that this production is embracing the egregious Asian stereotypes in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

It’s one thing to point out the stereotypes and quite another to reinforce it by moving forward without addressing the changes. It is saying to me: “Here are anti-Asian stereotypes. Look, they are quite common. That’s why we are ok with promoting them in our musical. And it’s just for a laugh so that’s ok.”

And while everyone has the right to their own opinion, this is not ok with me.

The “Asian-Americans in the Media” panel took place during this school’s Asian Culture Day B-block in the Little Theatre.

English teacher Michele Leong presented a slide show comparing Asian-Americans to white Americans in popular movies and television shows. Leong explained that the roles and attitudes of Asian-American women differ, but that Asian-American women are usually publicized as hyper sexualized. She continued by adding that Asian-American men are publicized as the “laughing stalk” and are emasculated overall.

After, three students from the cast and crew of Thoroughly Modern Millie, a musical surrounded by controversy around its portrayal of Asians, joined English teachers Peter Goddard and Brad Jensen to discuss the show.

Senior Kelsey Fox explained her role in the show could potentially cause much concern among the audience. Fox is playing Mrs. Meers, a white woman who pretends to be Asian. Fox said that she will be playing a very politically incorrect and “derogatory, to say the least” role in the musical. Motivated to not offend people in the audience, Fox explained, “My job is to make sure the audience laughs at my character and not at Asian culture.” Fox has been, “learning and listening to our Asian community,” in order to limit the offensiveness of her role.

The panel explained that they were all trying to round out their characters of the racist show. “We try to round out characters, and make them more like humans and less like caricatures,” said Jensen.

Theater Ink director Adam Brown stepped into the conversation and said, “Sure, it would’ve been easier to not pick this show, but because we have, it has caused a lot of questions and communication. That is certainly a learning opportunity for everyone.”

“I’m glad Theatre Ink is doing the show and I’m glad to be a part of this show,” said Senior Hiroki Shibuya.

These are all related posts on Thoroughly Modern Millie at Newton North High School:

My Take on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Talk Back: Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS

NNHS Responds to Concerns About Thoroughly Modern Millie

MTI Advises How to Squelch Dissent on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Throwndown NNHS: Talk the Talk or Walk the Walk? Regarding Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Rebuttal to ‘Millie in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

More Than 50% of Asian American Teens are Bullied in School

White Privilege and Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie End of School Year Takeaway

These are other articles and posts related to Thoroughly Modern Millie at Newton North High School:

The Boston Globe: School Play’s Stereotypes Bring Outcry and Apology. “Millie” touches nerve in Newton by Ellen Ishkanian

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ Flag Highlights How Old Plays are Rife with Stereotypes by Don Aucoin

The Telegraph: US high school show triggers race row by David Millward

NECN TV SegmentNECN Broadside with Jim Braude, Historical Musical Sparks Controvery at Massachusetts High School

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ Fight Creates a Chilling Effect by Joan Vennochi

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

The Boston Globe: Musical is Little More Than Staged Racism by Jeffrey Melnick (Letter to Editor in response to Joan Vennochi’s article above).

Monitoring, Exposing & Fighting Against Anti-Semitism and Racism: Thoroughly Modern Millie’ play draws controversy in Mass. over racial stereotyping

Company One: In the Intersection, Thoroughly Modern Millie Controvery at Local High School

Inside: Boston high school in trouble over racism in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ 

A case study published by UMass Peter Kiang almost 20 years ago (see pages 9-13), parallels almost exactly what happened at Newton North High School. ScholarWorks at UMass Boston, We Could Shape It: Organizing for Asian American Student Empowerment by Peter Nien-Chu Kiang.

Resist Racism: Thoroughly Racist ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

Genki Speak: Racism in Our Backyard

Angry Asian Man

Village 14: Decision to Stage ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at North Challenged

AsAm News: Play Filled With Offensive Images Sparks Town Hall Meeting

AsAm News: I Love Newton: High School Production Fails To Address Heavy Dose Of Asian American Stereotypes

Greer Tan Swiston: Kudos to Newton North for a thoroughly modern update of ‘Millie’

The Boston Globe: Oh, by the way, how about a round of applause for the kids? (Letter to the Editor from a grandparent)

The Boston Globe: Choice, execution of musical informed by thoughful education process (Letter to the Editor from the writers who comprise the Theatre Arts Opportunity Committee at Newton North High School.)

The Boston Globe: We miss a vital chance for understanding when we swap out ethnic characters(Letter to the Editor from a great-grandmother, teacher and volunteer)

Arissa Oh ‏@arissaoh  1h

3 white ppl on @GreaterBoston unhelpfully discuss HS prodns of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” http://bit.ly/1ijHR9k  cc: @pragmaticmom

Pawprint: Millard West Student NewspaperThrough with Thoroughly Modern Millie

The Washington PostTwenty-Three Skiddo: ‘Modern Millie’ Doesn’t Dance

It’s an attempt, sort of, at a parody of the old-style musicals of the ’20s and ’30s, the sort jerry-built out of cheerful songs, convoluted plots, elaborate tap demonstrations and derogatory stereotypes.

IMDbThoroughly Embalmed Musical

Project MuseThoroughly Modern Millie (review)

Not Like CrazyAn Easily Overlooked Racism?

In the Spring semester at school, the Musical Theater Department put on Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was overflowing with racism in its portrayal of Asians. I must say, I was thoroughly upset about the whole thing. First, the guys playing the Asians, I believe they were supposed to be Chinese immigrants, had white face makeup and slanty eyes. I couldn’t help but think that if they’d dressed in blackface, surely there’d be an uproar (Of course, they are putting on Ragtime this year, so we’ll see how they handle that– they’re already sending out emails about how they want the black students to try out for roles because there aren’t many black people in the musical theater department *eyeroll*). That wasn’t the only bad thing about the musical, however, the villian was a white woman pretending to be Asian who pronounced her L’s as R’s, and said she used soy sauce to clean a stain. Of course, she also treated the two Asian immigrants who worked for her as if they were stupid, and the silently and humbly submit in front of her, though behind closed doors they argue in Chinese (I guess it was real Chinese), with subtitles projected above the stage. And then one of the Asian men falls in love with one of the white women in the musical, blonde hair, blue eyes, you know the deal. At the end of the musical, they get together, as if his reward for working hard and being submissive, for being mistreated, is the gift of white womanhood, the pinnacle of creation. So yeah, I was pretty pissed about that whole thing.

MyvanwyReview of Thoroughly Modern Millie

Someone sent me video of a local comedian’s youtube video of a character I’ve seen him portray once before. To call it infantile and racially insensitive would be a gross understatement. For the targets of his ridicule, it’s every bit as offensive as a mean-spirited performance in blackface. But because it’s against one of the few groups for whom bigotry, hostility, and ridicule is still acceptable (Chinese Americans and others of Asian and/or Pacific Island descent), it’s seen as okay by most and even encouraged by other local comedians. Kevin Marshall’s America

Zak KeithHollywood Asian Stereotypes

Racism against Asians is often “unawares”—a form of racism that flies under the radar due to its widespread acceptance as the norm. Its interactive dynamic resembles that of an unwritten social contract. Asians in the West are expected to accept patronizing remarks and racist taunts so demeaning that perpetrators would think twice before dishing them out with such unwavering consistency to any other minority group, such as Latinos or African Americans. Asians who object to such treatment are typically met with befuddlement and offense at their audacity to make an issue out of it.

p.p.s. Here are some related posts on my Asian American blog:

How Asian Americans Are Portrayed in U.S. Media. Who Should Be the Next Asian Old Spice Guy?

Asian Americans in Recurring TV Gigs

A Racist Bakesale Exposes Reverse Discrimination Against Asian Americans (I include this link because this is the real racist front that Asian Americans are currently fighting. All my posts on this topic are here.

Making us explain why Yellow Face is offensive is a waste of our time. I can’t believe this is still being used. In real life, has there ever been a white person pretending to be Asian? It’s only in the media and on the stage that this ridiculous premise exists.)

Survivor: Cook Islands Winner Yul Kwon and Why Media Portrayal of Asian Americans Matters

miasmall

Mia Wenjen blogs at PragmaticMom: Education Matters, here and occasionally at her Asian American blog JadeLuckClub. She resides in Newton with her husband and three kids, the oldest of which will attend Newton North High School this fall. She can be found on PinterestTwitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Sulia, Google +Instagram and YouTube.

Photo credit: Grasshopper and Sensei, my oldest.

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Comments
108 Responses to “Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS is Thoroughly Racist”
  1. ElliF says:

    Thank you for speaking out! We need more voices like yours in our community.

    My daughter will be starting at NNHS in September and was really upset to learn that the high school is producing this racist musical. Through this choice, the message NNHS has given her is that she, as an incoming freshman, is not going to be welcome, respected, or safe there due to her race and ethnicity. Given that she was racially bullied during elementary school here in Newton and her school did nothing to stop the bullying, she feels like the high school is setting her up to be bullied all over again.

    The Newton schools can do all the programs they want on understanding differences and bullying not being acceptable, but if they continue to model that racism is acceptable in practice, e.g. for entertainment purposes, their efforts are going to continue to be meaningless.

    Thank you again for speaking out, and I hope more parents and students will speak out about this as well.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Thank you for commenting Elli! We, as Asian Americans, need to be heard. I think it’s easy to assume that Asian Americans are passive, voiceless and turn-the-other-cheek. I know that was how I was coached to act as child growing up in Southern California. “Don’t make waves.” “The nail standing up gets pounded down.”

      I think we need to stand up and say THIS IS NOT OK. A musical that uses egregious Asian stereotypes for an easy laugh is NOT ok. Yellow face is NOT ok. Fake Chinese of the “Ching Chong Ding Dong” assortment is a very common way to bully Asian Americans. That is NOT ok.

      I am surprised that Newton North High School which boasts the oldest high school exchange program in the United States would put on an Anti-Asian, Anti-Chinese musical. Would they be comfortable showing this to their sister school in China with subtitles?

      • See Jay says:

        Hey Pragmatic Mom,

        May I suggest that you concentrate your commentary on teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and suicide: instead of your perceptions of Asian racism. Perhaps some thought about priorities and what really is important to our children, would help you reconsider your current unnecessary opinions.

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Hi See Jay,
          Actually I feel I am addressing issues like suicide since it stems from feeling marginalized. Would you like to talk about this further in person? I’d be glad to meet with you face to face.

          It’s really great that you can demonstrate your online bullying skills. Know that I reverse engineer your email address to figure out who you are.

        • Irene says:

          Racism is not something that exists only in perception. The ignorance of those who do not accept that racism is a priority issue – especially for young people – just goes to show how much work still needs to be done in education and awareness.

          Discounting others’ opinions as “unnecessary” is simply rude.

          Addressing issues like racism is absolutely a part of the suicide discussion. Please refer to this web page discussing suicide among Asian-Americans:

          http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/asian-american/suicide.aspx

          Some excerpts:

          – U.S.-born Asian-American women had a higher lifetime rate of suicidal thoughts (15.9 percent) than that of the general U.S. population (13.5 percent).

          – Asian-Americans college students were more likely than White American students to have had suicidal thoughts and to attempt suicide.

          Risk factors:
          – Social Factors: Family conflict, viewing one’s self as a burden to others, and experiences of discrimination predict increased suicidal thoughts and attempts.

          Protective factors:
          – Ethnic group identification: A strong identification with one’s ethnic group is a protective factor against suicide attempts.

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi Irene,
            Thank you for the information about the connection between racism/being and feeling marginalized and suicide. I think this is a very important discussion and one that Newton North High School in particular should pay heed to. If they are actually listening and hearing. Also cyberbullying and suicide. I’m quite sure that See Jay is a Newton North High School student from the comments he left below. I interpret his last comment to be cyberbullying and I wonder how Newton North High School handles this?

        • ElliF says:

          Well, I know lots of kids of Asian descent right here in Newton who feel this issue is an important priority. Some have been reading Pragmatic Mom’s blog and taking great comfort and inspiration from it. I’m not quite sure why you think you know what the priorities are for all kids in our community, but I don’t think you should assume that you do.

          Living life in circumstances where a key part of your identity is disrespected, discounted, and marginalized can have everything to do with substance abuse, suicide, and other problems children, teens, and adults struggle with. Addressing racism is a responsibility we all have if we want to build healthy lives for our kids and for everyone in our community.

          In contrast to your claims that this issue is unimportant and irrelevant, I will add that just over a decade ago, my family lost our home due to being stalked by a racist, anti-Asian individual in our then neighborhood. While this did not happen in Newton, it was in a nearby community with very similar demographics. Shortly before that, the home of friends in another similar local community was firebombed and burned to the ground by white supremacists. They were targeted because they were Asian. Male friends of mine who are Asian must continue to avoid walking alone near Fenway Park after Red Sox games because even today they are targeted for physical attacks due to their racial and ethnic identities. The perpetrators of all these hate crimes are unrelated — except by their racism.

          When my daughter learned that this musical was being produced at NNHS during the transition meeting meant to welcome incoming freshman last week, she got a loud and strong message that she was not truly welcome for all of who she is. She had been so excited about starting high school at North this coming fall, and now she feels much more cautious and wary about what her experiences there will hold for her and her friends. Very understandably so.

          I welcome you to address the substantive issues related to anti-Asian racism in our immediate and broader community. Meaningful, respectful dialogue always results in better outcomes than comments which disrespect the experiences of people who are different from you.

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi ElliF,
            Thank you for your response to See Jay who seems to be a Newton North High School student. His voice just goes to show you that there is much work to be done to make Newton North High School a safe and welcoming place to be in which to voice your concerns. I would like to know who this person is though he, obviously, has chosen to hide his identity. Cyberbullies are cowards and should be confronted head-on.

        • Z says:

          Why is racism less important then any of those other topics. And mind you, do not call my moms opinions unnecessary because a lot of people feel like she is right and the side of the Asians needs to be heard. But if you are too stupid to read what other people have to say don’t comment back because it really seems like you don’t know everyones opinion.

  2. Susan says:

    Is this currently running, and when does it run until? I can’t believe I’m an alum…. maybe its the underlying themes here that spurred me on to lead the Boston Asian American Film Festival.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Susan,
      Yes, it’s running this week starting Thursday. We certainly need more Asian American film festivals!! Glad you are running one! I am hopeful that your films don’t showcase egregious negative stereotypes of Asians!

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Here’s the link to buy tickets to Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS: http://www.theatreink.net/shows/2013/Millie/

      The show schedule is March 13th, 14th, 15th, 2014, at 7:30PM
      March 16th at 2PM
      in the Performing Arts Center

      • Susan says:

        Thanks, but unfortunately (or fortunately) I am flying out on Wed to head to SF for CAAM Fest to catch some diverse and accurate reflections of Asians and Asian Americans in film and media!

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Hi Susan,
          It’s good to know that there are movies, musicals, and TV shows being made that portray Asian Americans in a more accurate and diverse way.

  3. Irene says:

    Thank you for speaking up!! I am an Asian-American, and I agree, Asian culture teaches us to “not make waves”, but we really need to stand up and speak out against racism, especially when it happens in our own communities.

    I live in a neighboring town, and I am so surprised that this kind of racism exists in these well-educated, diverse, middle class communities. I would have thought that, faced with all the articles out there describing the racism of the production, the school would have reconsidered their decision to do this show. I am disappointed, and I can’t help but think: If my town’s high school wanted to put on this production, could they be stopped??

  4. Myra says:

    As a family member of a cast member, I’d like it to be known that the actors portraying Bun Foo and Ching Ho are not using yellow face. Their portrayals of these characters are NOT meant to enforce such Chinese stereotypes but rather to bust them. I’d appreciate the respect of the show that these kids have poured their hearts and their souls into. The cast by NO means is ignorant in regards to the issues brought up in Millie. This article is THOROUGHLY insulting.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Myra,
      How is the show addressing stereotypes of Asians portrayed to the audience? Is this a show that you’d show to the sister school in China in which Newton North does student exchanges?

      Could you please explain how this show busts stereotypes? As for yellow face, I was referring to the woman who is pretending to be Asian and who, I believe, speaks fake Cantonese.

      It sounds to me that this show is intentionally offensive:

      “There are some images in our show that are going to be offensive,” said English teacher Bradley Jensen, the director.

      I appreciate your point of view that you feel this show is not racist but enlightening to the audience who will, I assume, walk away with historical references from which these anti-Asian stereotypes derive and, indeed, still plague Asian Americans to this day.

    • Myra says:

      Although, I’m curious, how would you approach producing this musical at a public high school?

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Myra,
      Did the cast learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act? Or the Cable Act?

      For all practical purposes, the Exclusion Act, along with the restrictions that followed it, froze the Chinese community in place in 1882. Limited immigration from China continued until the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943.

      The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first federal law to restrict the immigration of a specific group based on nationality, and defined in legal terms who could not “become American.” While European immigration surged, Chinese exclusion was extended indefinitely in 1904. It would be another 39 years before the Act would be repealed.

      The Chinese were legally categorized as “aliens ineligible for citizenship” — that is, perpetual foreigners. Although the language wasn’t explicitly racial, the term was applied only to Chinese (and later other Asian) immigrants, effectively defining the color line among immigrants by extending “whiteness” to Europeans and opening the door for anti-Asian laws.

      Cable Act

      The Cable Act decrees that any American woman who marries “an alien ineligible for citizenship shall cease to be a citizen of the United States.”

      The Cable Act of 1922 (ch. 411, 42 Stat. 1021, “Married Women’s Independent Nationality Act”) is a United States federal law that reversed former immigration laws regarding marriage, also known as the Married Women’s Citizenship Act or the Women’s Citizenship Act. Previously, a woman lost her U.S citizenship if she married a foreign man, since she assumed the citizenship of her husband—a law that did not apply to men who married foreign women.

      Former immigration laws prior to 1922 did not make reference to the alien husband’s race. However, The Cable Act of 1922 guaranteed independent female citizenship only to women who were married to “alien[s] eligible to naturalization”. At the time of the law’s passage, Asian aliens were not considered to be racially eligible for U.S. citizenship. As such, the Cable Act only partially reversed previous policies, allowing women to retain their U.S. citizenship after marrying a foreigner who was not Asian. Thus, even after the Cable Act become effective, any woman who married an Asian alien lost her U.S. citizenship, just as she would have under the previous law.

      Do these REAL laws conflict with the [revised] plot line of Thoroughly Modern Millie? Are you presenting something that is historically inaccurate? Does the cast and audience know about these real laws that underscore the negative stereotypes presented?

    • ElliF says:

      Myra, whether the students wear yellow face or not, the musical is still racist. It is not appropriate for a Newton school to be producing this kind of musical unless they rewrite it extensively enough to eliminate the racism.

      Just because students work hard at something does not take away from the racism. In fact, putting students in the position of pouring their hearts and souls into a musical that makes racist content a form of entertainment only normalizes the racism, making it more invisible. The Newton Public Schools have a responsibility to its students, families, and community to do better than this!

      Please do not denigrate the article above as “thoroughly insulting” for naming and discussing these important issues. These are conversations that must take place, especially at any schools that produce racist plays like this. Silencing the discussion is not healthy.

      While I am not happy that Newton North High School is producing this musical, thus condoning the racism, at very least they could open each production with a statement about the racism, perhaps putting it into some kind of historical context. They could end each production with a dialogue between cast, audience, and guests from various local organizations like Genki Spark, Gund Kwok, the Asian American Resource Workshop, the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston, etc.

      I agree with the author of the article above when she questions whether Newton North would produce this musical for its longtime sister school in China. If that would not be acceptable, then why is it acceptable to produce it here?

      I for one am tired of the NPS making such a big show of “diversity programs” but then not practicing what it preaches on a daily basis within its schools. It’s time for Newton to walk the walk and stop just talking the talk for show.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi ElliF,
        Thank you so much for your response and for addressing Myra’s comment about this article being “thoroughly insulting.” I would love for her to clarify to whom this article is being insulting to.

        You also bring up a good point about students working hard being a different issue from the racism. Obviously, the students are a hard working and talented bunch and they would be working hard on any production. My issue is why a racist version is chosen for the students to be spending their time on.

        And that this is widely used in high schools around the country also disturbs me. We all make choices, right? We can chose to do something that isn’t racist (and still be the same musical albeit sanitized) or we can perpetuate something that continues to bring up old and racist stereotypes against Asian Americans. For Asian Americans like myself, it’s like killing a dragon that keeps coming back to life.

        Are we still fighting these old stereotypes? Only when you keep bringing them up and putting it in our faces.

        We, as Asian Americans, also have new negative stereotypes and fights on the racism front that are CURRENT and RELEVANT. Why do you bring up these old ones instead of letting them die? Now, we have to fight both on the old racism front and the new racism front. Can you see why this is so frustrating for Asian Americans? This is also a painful chapter in U.S. history that we’d rather not have to relive over and over again. It’s not like it’s being taught in High School Honors U.S. history either. But now, you force up to dredge up old wounds and go over this extremely racist period of history against Asian Americans.

        And it’s all for a comedic laugh. There’s nothing funny about this to us!

  5. Rory says:

    I do agree with you that the musical is still pretty problematic, for, well, for most of the reasons you listed, but you have your facts blatantly wrong on some places. I think you’re losing the distinction between the 1967 movie (which is incredibly racist) and the musical (which is, like I said, by no means perfect, but a big step in the right direction). Ching Ho and Bun Foo are most certainly not referred to as “Oriental #1 and Oriental #2” in the script for the musical. They are of course given not only real names but real conflict and motivation, giving them more depth and stopping them from being plain old evil henchmen – they are good guys who have a reason for doing what they do. Mrs. Meers does not speak fake Cantonese at any point. And the most important thing to note is that the joke about Meers is NOT her obviously inaccurate Chinese impression. It’s the fact that she thinks it’s so good. The point is that Meers is such an obviously detestable character (arrogant, ignorant, and likes to kidnap girls) that her offensive impression and use of yellowface is condemned with all her other misdeeds over the course of the show.

    I’m not trying to say that the show is perfect, because it still isn’t. But I think it’s unfair and very misleading of you to quote sources about the movie (like that article from Bitch Magazine) without making a clear distinction from the musical.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Rory,
      Here is more from Bitch Magazine that is specific to the 2002 Broadway show:

      “Millie was adapted into a stage musical in 2000, which came to Broadway in 2002. I have not seen it, but I do know enough to know that they tried valiantly to rectify the problems with the source material. They (mercifully) cut the Jewish wedding entirely, and they gave Mrs. Meers’ servants names and motivations—one ultimately ends up marrying Miss Dorothy, in the stage show’s most radical departure from the film. But I question why this adaptation even came to be, more than thirty years after the film first premiered. Why it was felt that a film this transparently problematic could—or should!—be turned into a stage show, other than the general momentum stage adaptations of movies have been gaining in the past decade. And lastly, I question whether the changes they made really solved the problem, and I am forced to conclude they almost certainly didn’t. Millie, despite many charming moments, is rotten to the core, and I don’t see a way to solve that problem without making an entirely different show.”

    • ElliF says:

      I have seen the musical elsewhere and it is still racist. Please see my response to Myra above for more thoughts on this.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        To Eugene, Rory and Romantic Dad,
        Do you want to respond to what ElliF says, “I have seen the musical elsewhere and it is still racist. Please see my response to Myra above for more thoughts on this.”

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Rory,
      It is my understanding that there are still issues in the 2002 Broadway play such that The Dalton School did a rewrite. I’m sure if you compare the Dalton School’s version to the 2002 version, the audience would have the same reaction from comparing the movie to the 2002 play. I keep hearing that the older movie version is appalling in its racist portrayal of Asian Americans. But, if there is still a reaction to the 2002 musical that it is racist, then doesn’t it make sense to use the Dalton School version?

  6. Eugene says:

    I’m really quite appalled that a school in Newton could put on such a musical. But, I’m not completely surprised that it could still happen. People are still producing the racist musical Miss Saigon.

    To be fair, to the NNHS production, It would be helpful if you could go and watch one of the shows and report about the racist aspects of the Newton North version. It is possible that they may have addressed some of the racist issues. If not, a dialog or discussion would be appropriate.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Eugene,
      I am hoping that the NNHS will include a dialog and discussion during the show. I have many Asian Amerian parents who will be at the show and are willing to give them commentary after seeing they. They are reserving their judgement until then. Fair enough, right?

  7. Romantic Dad says:

    I like to refer you to an article written on Newtonite. Unfortunately, somehow this article didn’t make into their online version so I had to type it up. I hope I didn’t add too much typo into it.

    I hope you understand that you commented about “Thoroughly Modern Mille” and not about “… AT NNHS”. I hope you will watch the show with open mind and see if they succeeded in addressing the concern like yours.


    Newtonite, Newton North – Friday, Jan. 17, 2014
    Director, actors respond to musical streotypes

    By Peter Diamond

    In a number of ways, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Theatre Ink’s spring musical resembles the quintessential Broadway romantic comedy: showy dance numbers, a sizable ensemble, slapstick comedy. But unlike most comparable pieces of theatre, this musical features racial stereotyping in a controversial way that students and faculty are addressing in preparation for the production.

    Based on the 1967 film of the same title, this musical tells the story of Millie Dillmont, a woman from Kansas who moves to New York City in the 1920s to embrace new opportunities for women in urban environments. The production highlights her experience living in the hotel Priscilla, which is run by the show’s main antagonist, a white actress and landlady named Mrs. Meers who poses as a Chinese immigrant. Mrs. Meers disguises her property as a boarding house with the secret intention to sell young white women into slavery in southeast Asia.

    English teacher Bradley Jensen, the show’s director said he chose this musical to direct because of it’s female opportunities and numerous dance numbers. He said he recognizes the shows negative images that reinforce a stereotype of submissiveness among Asian men and plans to address them with the cast and team.

    “As a director, first and foremost I want to make my cast aware of the negative images of Asians that appear within our show,” said Jensen. “In order to address them, we must recognize them and have a basic understanding of historical context of these offensive images and ideas.”

    On behalf of the school Office of Human Rights, English teachers Charlene Beh and Michele Leong will work with the cast and crew to “bring fully developed and non-stereotypical characters to life in the musical,” and to help ensure that the show has “a balance of positive images of Asian and Asian-Americans,” said Leong. Jensen also intends to collaborate with the Asian Culture Club which Beh and Leong advise.

    To respond to stereotypes, actors will be conscientious in their portrayals of racist characters. In the musical’s libretto by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, a stage direction says, “The actress portraying Mrs. Meers should be encouraged to embrace the offensiveness of her politically incorrect rendering of Asian, confident in the knowledge that, when contrasted with the actual Asian characters we meet later on, her depiction of a hateful stereotype will be busted as inauthentic and absurd.”

    Senior Kelsey Fox will portray the role of Mrs. Meers in Theatre Ink’s upcoming production. Fox is no stranger to comedy, having appeared in Nitrous Oxide and Spontaneous Generation, This school’s sketch comedy troupe and improvisational comedy troupe, respectively, since her freshman year. Additionally, Fox is student in Leadership in a Diverse Society, a course taught by Leong and English teacher Peter Goddard that includes a unit on Asian-American identity.

    Fox said that her goal is to be an ally to the Asian-American community. According to her, that alliance “means just really, honestly listening, and doing what I can to understand something I will never fully understand,” she said. “Millie” is a comedy, so ultimately, Mrs. Meers is intended to be a comic villain. It’s just my job to make sure the comedy centers around her, and not around making fun of and stereotyping Asian culture.”

    As a part of her connection to the white slavery ring, Mrs. Meers manipulates two innocent Chinese immigrant brothers, named Ching Ho and Bun Foo, into helping her by promising them the opportunity to bring their mother to the United States. Ching Ho will be played by senior Hiroki Shibuya, who is Asian-American, and Bun Foo will be played by senior Ezra Dulit-Greenberg, who is white. According to Jensen, Dulit-Greenberg will portray Bun Foo as a white man who had been adopted into China rather than in yellowface.

    According to Shibuya, a proper analysis of Ching Ho and Bun Foo could paint them as something much deeper than a racist stereotype of two Chinese immigrants.

    “Whenever Ching Ho is seen with Mrs. Meers, he plays the typical minion role, not speaking much and following his employer’s orders no matter how much he disagrees with them,” said Shibuya. “This is the stereotype that is all too easy to see on the surface, but when you see the brothers by themselves, they are more than quiet, timid henchman.

    “They are conflicted characters who are passionate to take their mother away from Hong Kong and to bring her to the land of promise, but must put themselves through this vile job in order to save her,” he said.

    Shibuya hopes that his performance will convey Ching Ho’s most universal traits.

    “Rather than playing an over-dramatic Asian caricature, I hope to develop a character that comes simply from his innermost feelings, especially his desire to see his mother,” he said. “By being honest to the character and his words, I believe the historical context and the show’s humor and story will naturally become apparent.”

    Dulit-Greenberg, echoed Shibuya’s viewpoint of these characters, describe Bun Foo as “a truly recognizable character whose deepest motive, reunification with his mother, transcends race.”

    Both Dulit-Greenberg and Shibuya feel that an honest portrayal of these characters will balance the blatant racism that is used as a vehicle for dark comedy in the portrayal of Mrs. Meers, which Dulit-Greenberg described as “a sarcastic comment on racism.”

    “The sense of humor in the show is usually centered around Mrs. Meers’s obscene impression of a Chinese woman,” said Dulit-Greenberg. “Though the joke was probably originally the impression itself, we will try to pull humor by making Mrs. Meers seem ridiculous, and not her targets.”

    Jensen is leading the cast through the process by addressing the musical’s difficult content and maintaining an open dialogue. For example, he held a full-cast meeting on Thursday, Jan. 9 to ensure that each cast member was able to articulate the importance of addressing the stereotypes in the musical, as well as distinction between actual hate and comedy.

    “I hope that by discussing these issues now and proactively engaging in socially responsible dialogue, our show will not only be barrels of fun, but it will also be socially conscious piece that opens doors for further dialogues, bringing light to a topic that must be discussed within our school,” said Jensen.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Romantic Dad,
      Did Bradley Jensen also address the historical inaccuracies in the rewritten show? For a white woman to marry a Chinese immigrant, she would lose her U.S. citizenship so it’s highly improbable that the ending is a reflection of the 1920s.

      For the brothers to attempt to bring their mother over from China after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed would have taken an act of god to accomplish. Chinese immigration to the United States all but ceased during this time. I doubt that U.S. Senator could have gotten a visa for their mother.

      Yes, the new version is a “correction” to the egregious book but its quick fix has historical inaccuracies that are tantamount to rewriting history — U.S. immigration history that does not seem to be taught at Newton North it seems, and this inaccurate one does disservice to the REAL racial bias that form the basis of these negative stereotypes that Asian Americans faced in the past and currently to this very day.

      Wouldn’t you agree for Thoroughly Modern Millie to be socially conscious, it must first be, at least, historically accurate?!

    • ElliF says:

      While the school may be addressing these issues internally with the students in the cast, whether their intentions to “bust stereotypes” amount to more than intentions remains to be seen.

      I find it offensive that a musical like this was selected. English teacher Bradley Jensen’s reasoning that it was a good choice “because of it’s [sic] female opportunities and numerous dance numbers” is disturbing. My family and I do not think that opportunities for female roles and lots of dancing validate anti-Asian racism — or racism of any type.

      I think Newton North High School has a responsibility to our broader community — including Newton’s Asian and immigrant communities in particular — to address this racism more directly. At very least, Jensen and the cast should take additional steps, such as writing and including a prologue to address the racism and historical context of the musical before each show. In addition, Jensen and the cast should make arrangements to host a series of discussions about anti-Asian racism after each production that would include the cast, audience, and guests from groups such as Genki Spark, Gund Kwok, the Asian American Resource Workshop, the Institute of Asian American Studies at UMass Boston, etc.

      I am very disappointed with the selection of this musical and the limited steps that are being taken to make a racist play more palatable to the audience.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi ElliF,
        I completely agree with you. And I would add that if Jensen truly intends on using this as a teachable moment, he needs to write a prologue that is part of the play and hold discussion during the play. Not during intermission when everyone leaves. Not after the play when everyone leaves. It needs to be before the actors take their bows.

        • ElliF says:

          Hi, yes, excellent suggestions! I think Jensen and his students should write a prologue that would start the play. Then periodically throughout the production, they should create moments for commentary and discussion, as you suggested. This should happen more than once, and these “spot light” moments should not happen during the intermission or afterwards.

          I still like the idea of bringing in guests from a diverse range of local Asian groups. Their voices, based on strong, powerful, and healthy racial identities — of both individuals and communities — would bring a very different perspective from what I am hearing coming from NNHS as they try to patch up this controversy instead of starting from a place of cultural humility, respect, and competency. There is a big difference!

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi ElliF,
            I absolutely agree with you about bringing in a range of local Asian groups to discuss this play. That would make for a much richer and educational discussion. I hope there is someone that is reaching out to set this up (but I am not holding my breath!)

    • Irene says:

      Thank you for transcribing the Newtonite article here. It is very helpful. Mostly, I am bothered by these quotes from the article:

      “this musical features racial stereotyping”
      –> It sounds like it is widely accepted that racial stereotyping exists. In this day and age, I believe the only way to stop perpetuating racial stereotyping is not to engage it in.

      “He said he recognizes the shows negative images that reinforce a stereotype of submissiveness among Asian men and plans to address them with the cast and team.”
      –> Again, negative stereotypes WILL be propagated with this production. Does Bradley Jensen have a plan on how to address the stereotypes with the entire audience, which will perhaps include less informed members of the community, or perhaps more informed Asian parents and grandparents?

      “I hope that by discussing these issues now and proactively engaging in socially responsible dialogue, our show will not only be barrels of fun, but it will also be socially conscious piece that opens doors for further dialogues, bringing light to a topic that must be discussed within our school,” said Jensen.
      –> I do appreciate the dialogue, but I think a better dialogue would be for the school to NOT put on the production, or to put on the sanitized version by the Dalton School, and then discuss WHY the original version was not produced. Racism is not made okay by engaging in it and then using it as a learning opportunity. The learning opportunity comes from NOT engaging in it in the first place and understanding why.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi Irene,
        And I would like to add that I would like the historical accuracy addressed including the Chinese Exclusion Act which pretty much would have made it impossible for the Chinese henchmen to consider bringing their mother to the United States. I would imagine that it would take a special act of Congress to get her a Visa.

        Also, the Cable Act which would have negated the U.S. citizenship of a wife of a Chinese immigrant. This act was created as an Anti-Asian law to prevent inter-marrying. So it’s highly implausable that the Chinese henchman would have “gotten the girl.” Or, if it is to be historically accurate, she needs to realize as lines in the play, what she would be giving up.

        In this same historical context but a few years later, there were specific laws in NYC against Chinese who ran laundry businesses.

        With the support of white people in that same industry, in 1933 the New York City Board of Aldermen passed a law intended to drive the Chinese out of the business. Among other things, it limited ownership of laundries to United States citizens.

        So the reality of the plot, is that if the woman who became the Chinese henchman’s girlfriend — and I assume wife given the time period — she would 1) lose her U.S. citizenship and 2) her new husband would probably lose his business. So that feeds nicely back to this plot of prostitution and white slavery. In reality, I would imagine she would have prostition but probably not much else as a career option to keep them alive. That’s not a funny plot line, is it?!

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Here is more information about immigration from Hong Kong to the United States:

          It has been estimated that, between the 1850s and 1939, over six million people moved from Hong Kong alone. Some individuals however, would have made several overseas trips in their lifetimes. [11] In the 1850s, the vast majority moved to North America and Australia while, from the 1870s onwards, Singapore and the Malay states emerged as the principal destinations. This switch in destination was brought about by two concurrent processes. First, the “great white walls” of the exclusion policies were progressively erected around the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand– policies specifically designed to keep Asians out.[12] Second, the colonial governments in Southeast Asia, primarily the British, were seeking labor to develop the economies of territories they were rapidly absorbing.

          By the turn of the century, over 100,000 people a year were leaving both Hong Kong and Amoy for the Nanyang. The vast majority were almost certainly poor peasants from villages and small towns in Southern China who left to become laborers in both rural and urban activities, but migrants also included free settlers. They left an impoverished Southern China to work tin and develop market gardening in the Malay peninsula, to open up tobacco and rubber plantations in Sumatra and Sarawak respectively and to become rickshaw pullers and prostitutes in Singapore.[13] Also, a minority who had considerable urban experience, and some education and capital moved to extend trade and entrepreneurial activities. Perhaps of greatest significance, however, was that the destination areas provided opportunities for poorer migrants to become successful through hard work and personal contacts. There was thus considerable scope for economic and social mobility, resulting in a much greater range of Chinese migrants in terms of background and activities.

          By the 1930S, with the recession in the capitalist world, Southeast Asian destinations were becoming restricted to further Chinese immigration. This was followed by 12 years of disruption caused by the Sino-Japanese War, the Second World War, and the civil war between the Communist and Kuomintang armies. This period culminated with mass exoduses of two to three million people to Hong Kong and Taiwan upon the triumph of the Communist party in 1949. China subsequently isolated itself from the capitalist world and relatively few were able to leave. The great phase of migration that had formed the basis of a global network of overseas Chinese was over. That basis is fundamental for any analyses of current migration as, since the mid-1960s, Chinese have progressively been drawn into a new phase of emigration which clearly builds upon the global network established by earlier migrations.

          My point is that the Chinese Exclusion Act would have included Chinese from Hong Kong as well as Mainland China.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi Irene,
        I think the Newtonite articles highlight how the director recognized the racism in the musical and was expecting a reaction to it. In addition, he received letters of concern by parents about the racist nature of his choice. Unlike The Dalton School, he made the choice to move forward.

        I would like him to address how this is can be a socially conscious piece when it is historically inaccurate.

    • See Jay says:

      Well said ! And what show and production for Newton North High School to proud of! Great job Brad Jensen!

  8. Alex Weisman says:

    As an alumni of NNHS and a theatre professional I read a lot of review of shows. I also work in a city that is very conservative where the theatre company I work for gets letters from patrons complaining about every show we produce from “Elf: The Musical” to works like “Clybourne Park.” While I agree that perpetuating stereotypes and racism is not a good thing, especially in a school setting, the biggest issue that I have with this article is that the author never saw the production.

    Given the vast number of productions that I have worked on, I have seen good shows done poorly, and bad shows done really well. To cast a negative light on a student production of a show that is known to be controversial does not help the students who have spent countless hours working on it. If you haven’t seen the show then all you can do is quote “evidence” from other reviewers and articles (as illustrated in this article). Go see the show first, then write your opinion.

    Then study the history of American musical theatre. It is littered with shows that stereotype. Some of them are not produced anymore, but many are. The approach the NNHS is taking, making this a teachable moment, seeking the aid and guidance of the office of human rights is exactly how this should be handled. While it is great that some other high school was able to make revisions to the show, in reality, that isn’t an easy thing to do. The playwright may sign off it for them, but not for someone else. That is the nature of the business.

    Go see the show, then com back with a first-hand, informed opinion.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Alex,
      I think that we all make choices and we can chose to use something racist and be part of the problem, or make a different choice. What is frustrating is that the Dalton School’s version was completed before NNHS’s play was selected. And it took all of five minutes on Google to locate this. And I would imagine that one could contact the director at The Dalton School off their website and ask for a copy in less than five minutes. Or simply pick another musical.

      To continue to produce American musical theatre that is racist in a high school environment is ridiculous. To say that this is a teaching moment is also very different from how Newton teaches anti-bullying and Understanding Our Differences. I have been a parent volunteer for three series of Understanding Our Differences and I can assure you that we do not model negative behavior or dialogue about Special Needs children and then have a discussion to point out how wrong that it.

      And I would love to see research that shows that using materials that show the opposite of what is being taught (such as a racist musical to teach racial stereotyping) and then correcting this via discussion is an effective teaching methodology.

      • anon says:

        It is not nearly as easy as you think it would be for another theatre to stage the Dalton version of the show. First of all, their production went up in January, and since NNHS’s production is going up this week, I imagine that they had to select the musical to get the rights to perform it months ago, probably before this school year started. I don’t know the exact timeline of the revisions to the Dalton version but they probably hadn’t even been finished, let alone publicized, by then. Plus, there are issues with licensing – even if Dalton got permission to do this, it would require lots of time and finagling at the least to get permission from Dalton, Dick Scanlan, and MTI (the licensing company) to do that version of the show, which is incredibly unrealistic for this school to have been able to do. So your argument of “Why not just do the Dalton version?” doesn’t really apply.

        That’s not to mention the question over how much better the revised version really is. I haven’t seen it, so I won’t judge it, but seeing as you haven’t seen either version, I don’t know if you can say that it is certainly a solution. I think there is something to be said for taking on a problematic show like Millie (provided that NNHS does address the stereotypes actively and thoughtfully) rather than just trying to sanitize it. After all, pretending there is no problem does not take the problem away. It’s only by bringing it to peoples’ attention that progress can be made.

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Hi Anonymous,
          I agree that the Dalton version of the show might not have met this current timeline and obviously, there are other musicals out there that could have been chosen that are not full of Anti-Asian racism (though there certainly are several others that come to mind.).

          So there are two choices:
          1) Change the production date for the Dalton version or 2) Pick a different show.

          As for the stereotypes in Thoroughly Modern Millie, I would like to point out that these are OUT OF DATE Anti-Asian stereotypes that are NO LONGER RELEVANT. Certainly, there are anti-Asian stereotypes that exist NOW and are just as prevalent and more subtle. But why are you forcing us to object to out of date anti-Asian stereotypes? Is it that you don’t understand the racism that Asians face today? They are:

          1) Glass Ceiling/Bamboo Ceiling. Did you know there are more Asian billionaires than Asian Fortune 500 CEOs?
          http://jadeluckclub.com/asian-americans-hit-the-bamboo-ceiling-in-corporate-america-heres-why/

          2) Stereotyping Asians in the media to limited roles, HOWEVER it is not subservient roles as this is outdated. It’s limited to techy, medical, etc.

          See: Asian Americans in recurring TV Roles. Also please see the Kickstarter video in the post.

          http://jadeluckclub.com/asian-americans-regular-tv-gigs/

          3) Asian Americans who apply to top colleges need to have 140 extra points on the SAT to compete against white students. There are actual ceilings to prevent Asian Americans from taking too many spots.

          Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who reviewed data from 10 elite colleges, writes in “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal’’ that Asian applicants typically need an extra 140 points to compete with white students.

          http://jadeluckclub.com/1623-average-sat-score-of-asian-american-but-still-not-good-enough-for-ivy-league/

          Feel free to bring up other issues that Asian Americans face. These are my top 3.

          Certainly, we don’t currently struggle with the Queue and I would hope that the Queue is not featured as part of costume design in this version of Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS. But it is been part of the costume design for productions throughout the United States in high schools of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

          Yellow face is not a current issue that I encounter in my everyday life either. White people pretending to be Asian is the result of media/theatre. This does not happen in real life, either in the 1920s or in 2014. Yet, it is insulting. And, yes, by including it in Thoroughly Modern Millie, we will need to address it. Does this waste my time? Yes. Do I want to be discussing this? No. But I will since it’s part of Thoroughly Modern Millie produced here at NNHS in the year 2014.

          White (and Black) Slavery. Who historically brought people into slavery? Whites or Asians? And yet this show portrays Asians as the perpeptrators of white slavery. Is this relevant to my life in 2014? No. Do I need to discuss this as historically incorrect as a result of NNHS’s production? Yes.

          Is this play rewriting history in its presentation? Is it whitewashing what really happened and yet it’s still racist? That’s the most subversive and disturbing part of entertainment when “it’s all good fun.” It rewrites history so that the audience actually believes this version to be the truth.

          My example is the poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. This is a historically inaccurate portrayal of what happened but no ones it because of the poem written by a relative of Paul Revere.

          So, is the revised version of Thoroughly Modern Millie better? You are right. I don’t know. But I am asking why do a historically inaccurate racist musical in the first place? There are other choices. I have no problem, for example, with High School Musical 1, 2 or 3.

          My final point is would NNHS produce a show that is anti-Semitic or anti-African American as part of a creating a dialogue that educates? I think not. It’s easy to pick a show that is anti-Asian though, isn’t it?

          • anon says:

            I understand your point now; I was ignorant of the fact that the stereotypes from then and from now are different and now I don’t feel so confident in saying that the show “busts stereotypes”… it’s not good, no doubt.

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Thank you for your comment Anon. I appreciate it.

    • ElliF says:

      Hi Alex. It’s great that you work in theater and are still so passionate about student productions. No disagreements there. However, I think the point that some of us are making is that there are two separate issues at hand, and they need to be examined with greater clarity than can be done when they are lumped together.

      One issue has to do with the play selection. The NNHS Newtonite reported that the English teacher who selected this musical did so “because of it’s [sic] female opportunities and numerous dance numbers.” As I said earlier, female roles and lots of dancing do not validate the selection and use of anti-Asian or any racist material for theater productions. Racism is not entertainment for families who continue to experience its harm in our present lives.

      Newton is not an all white city, although the behaviors of some of its white residents and employees would lead one to believe that it is. It is disingenuous for Newton School employees to run “diversity programs” while they simultaneously continue to make excuses for using racist material for entertainment purposes.

      The second issue involved in this situation is how hard the student actors are working on the production. (That is, the students who chose to participate in the play. One student had the courage to say no and refused to take on an offensive, racist role in this production. And who knows how much more incredible talent is lost each year because of NNHS’ ongoing choices of racist and sexist plays.)

      Some Newton parents and residents who are writing here seem to believe that because students are working hard on this musical, those of us who are committed to speaking out in the face of ongoing racism in Newton should be silent. That our efforts to address this racism hurt the students, the production, and the community. One poster even wrote that the author’s original article was “THOROUGHLY insulting.”

      I believe these types of responses are indicative of the way that racism continues to be woven even more seamlessly into our culture and society. These types of comments do not address the racism itself, but conflate the issue by accusing parents and students who speak out against racism as being the problem.

      We are not the problem. Racism is the problem.

      Our families’ lives, dignity, and safety matter. We should not be blamed for speaking out in the face of racism in our community, especially when our children’s racial identity development, education, well being, safety, and lives are on the line.

      I would like to invite you to invest the time and effort into getting better educated about racism, white privilege, and what it means to become an ally to people of color. The theater is an amazing world of opportunities where we need more allies and people who are committed to speaking out against racism.

  9. Harry Watson says:

    If the “concerned parents” want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, they should voice their complaints before these kids spend months putting a show together rather than heavily criticizing their plays the week of the show and destroying their self esteems. NNHS did How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (a show that I was in) and I didn’t hear anyone complaining about how sexist that show was.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Harry,
      They did. Parents of kids in the production sent in letters when the show was selected. In fact, it was the mother of the son who was “strongly encouraged” to try out for the part of an Asian Henchman. He declined. Why? He found it offensive. So they had to recast a white kid instead and write in a unrealist storyline because they were unable to cast two Asian males for the roles.

      And parents of THIS show complained to me that How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was sexist and offensive to women. It does surprise me that the myriads of women/moms who were offended by How to Succeed in Business Without Really Tryingn did not voice their concern either before, during or after the show. But at least it was historically accurate (though I did not see the show, I am told that all the women were secretaries.)

      I think that by NOT bringing up concerns for stereotyping in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying which I believe ran last year, it sets up perfectly another show that has the same offensive elements with racism to boot. I am not sure why no one feel comfortable complaining opening. Perhaps the forum feedback is not open enough? Perhaps women are afraid to voice concern? I can not speak to that.

      As an Asian American, I know that we are perceived to be an invisible, voiceless and non-confrontational minority group and that is why I am making a stand. Not anonymously, though of course that would be easier. I am right out front and in the open saying (as my kids are taught to do in anti-bullying training at the Newton Public Schools): THIS IS NOT OK! Please stop! I don’t like this. And I ask that anyone who feels the same about a racist and offensive play held in a public school setting join me.

    • Irene says:

      It is my understanding – based on word of mouth – that students, teachers, and parents have been voicing their concerns about this play from the very beginning. Apparently, they were brushed aside. If this issue is garnering attention just as the show is about to open, maybe it is a final push to raise awareness in the broader community, since raising the concerns within the high school alone was not sufficient to address the issue.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi Irene,
        Thank you for that insight. I would have imagined that my friend who sent the letter was not alone. This “brushing aside” is what I have issue with. The director promises educational dialogue to use this play as a teaching opportunity. I will be there tonight with high expectations on how he handles this meaningful discussion!

        I only just found out about Thoroughly Modern Millie a few days ago which is why my dissent is so close to the opening of the play. If I had had time, I would have met with all the Asian groups in town to stage a protest:

        Boston Chinese Evangelical Church in Newton
        Newton Chinese Language School
        Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association in Newton
        Newton Cantonese School

        I did reach out to email them about this production but only a few days ago. I would have preferred to met with them to encourage them to speak out and attend the show.

        This show with a mostly Asian American audience would be a good rubric by which to judge its entertainment value. Is the audience meant to be white or Asian American? Would a white person sitting among mostly Asian Americans find it as entertaining? I wonder. Because I’m sure though an Asian American lens, this show is a lot less funny and entertaining!

  10. Nancy B. says:

    I am a parent of two students at Newton North and we have found it to be a community of openness, diversity, inclusion, and respect. I think you need to see the show before coming to a conclusion about it.

    Do you plan on seeing the show? I have an extra ticket if you want to go. I think it is important to actually see this production in order for you have a first-hand, informed opinion.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Nancy B,
      My question is why put on a production from the get go in which the director claims that there are images that are offensive to Asian Americans particularly when Asian American parents voiced concern before the production was cast? At The Dalton School when parents voiced concern, they made significant changes to both delay the show and rewrite it significantly in order to be sensitive to promoting Anti-Asian racism. NNHS just did Anti-Asian in the media stereotyping training for the cast which doesn’t negate the anti-Asian racism they will be portraying to the audience tonight. And they are showing outdated, irrelevant and insulting Anti-Asian stereotypes that we Asian Americans don’t currently face and yet, now we do again. In 2014, for gods sake.

      This 2002 prodution also disrespects the real racism Chinese Americans faced by ignoring history and portraying a storyline that is historically inaccurate and I doubt it makes references to REAL laws during that time that 1) prevented Asian Americans from immigrating to the United States and 2) was hugely punitive to anyone (ie white women) who married an Asian American. Of course, these issues are still relevant today — immigration in particular but there is not reference to this in the show or in the discussions held before the show with the cast.

      Will the Chinese Exclusion Act or the Cable Act be part of the dialogue IN the play? I doubt it. It’s disrepectful to our history not to reference it IN THE PLAY! This is a period piece. This is a significant reason for the racism that existed then and exists now. Erasing it is offensive to us.

    • ElliF says:

      Hi Nancy. I wonder if you might be willing to consider the possibility that your personal lens, as a white Newton resident, might be what enables you to find it “a community of openness, diversity, inclusion, and respect”?

      It’s interesting to me that you do not address any of the issues that have been raised here about the meaning of a white NNHS English teacher selecting a musical with well-known anti-Asian content. I’m appalled by his rationalization that the musical was worth selecting because it’s got lots of dancing and roles for female characters. There are lots of out-of-date theatrical productions that involved white actors in black face dancing and singing up a storm. Do you think Newton would ever select and produce a musical like that? What about a musical with blatantly anti-Semitic content, even if was to give lots of female students roles and provide lots of dance numbers?

      I really don’t think so, which begs the question, why is it acceptable for anti-Asian content to be selected for entertainment?

      If you are not willing to engage in a direct, meaningful dialogue about the anti-Asian racism inherent in the actual selection of this musical, it’s difficult to take your description of this community seriously.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi ElliF,
        That’s good point. In my head, I was imagining a production of The Christmas Carol but with Scrooge being Jewish and Tiny Tim and his family being poor and black. You think anyone would ever dare do that? I doubt it. These blatent stereotypes are offensive and dated.

        I’d love to hear Nancy’s response to why a Newton North High School student would decline to audition for show after being “strongly encouraged” because he found the role offensive. And while his mother sent a letter of objection, it went largely unheeded. This doesn’t demonstrate a community of diversity, openness, inclusion, and respect.

        And how did you feel about How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying as a selection that is sexist but historically accurate? Did you have an issue with this play? And for those who did but did not speak out, what would you suggest to them as a safe place or way to voice their concerns? It was my impression that the moms who were unhappy just voiced their complaints among themselves as it’s perceived by Harry Winston as no one having issue with it. Their voices, too, were invisible and this probably helped paved the way for Thoroughly Modern Millie.

  11. Elie B. says:

    Ah, good ol’ political correctness. Fortunately, you don’t fall prey to it or the hypocrisy it hides until you’ve moved on from high school. I’ve looked over past productions put on by NNHS over the years on their website. They did “West Side Story”. As a Hispanic, I can tell you I did NOT like the depiction of Latinos in that one. Nor did I appreciate the depiction of women in last year’s “How to Succeed in Business”. They were all secretaries!
    Someone might point out that these productions depict characters during a particular historical and cultural time frame. I think that Newton North high schoolers get it.
    You know what they don’t get? Adults getting all bent out of shape over a period comedy, obviously mocking the ignorant characterizations that were made at that time.
    What I don’t get is why we don’t ask ourselves the more pressing question at hand: Why are there so few minorities in our theatre productions? Why don’t we put on a show about LGBT issues? Aids? Teen suicide?
    So, a comedy that makes fun of human ignorance – we need more, not less of these.
    Bravo to Theatre Ink and Adam Brown for letting kids learn important life lessons through drama.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Elie B,
      You bring up good points about kids learning important life lessons through drama. But I would hope that you would agree that period comedies should be historically accurate.

      I am glad that you brough up How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying because the word on the street is while is was offensive to some women, the perception currently is that no one had issue with it. No one complained about the sexism in the play.

      Another good point — why are there so few minorities in our theatre productions? I know that an Asian American male was “strongly encouraged” to try out for Thoroughly Modern Millie but he declined because he found the part offensive, and not to him personally, but he felt uncomfortable knowing that his Chinese American grandparents would be in the audience should he perform. He opted instead for stage crew (and most likely his grandparents now will not be attending the play to watch him.)

      A comedy that makes fun of human ignorance is a different matter than a comedy that is racist and offensive. I would agree with you completely. And LGBT issues, aids and teen suicide seems much more on topic than 1920 stereotypes of Chinese Americans. Again, I fully support that.

      Thank you for joining the conversation. You bring up good points and I hope that your message will help steer more thoughtful selections for future NNHS productions.

  12. Kristen says:

    I am so glad you are raising this issue, particularly as it relates to Asian Americans. Incidentally, I am not Asian American, but some of my in-laws are, including my two sweet nephews. I also live in Quincy, MA, which, as you may know, has a 25% Asian American population. So for these two reasons, I am interested in doing away with the stereotypes and am happy to see this kind of discussion out in the public forum. Even though my daughter is in Kindergarten (and also not Asian American), already I have witnessed some of her peers use divisive language and make comments about a new classmate who recently emigrated from China. It breaks my heart to see this happening. Whether it is intentional or not, knowing their ages, is questionable but at minimum they do not seem to possess the kind of sensitivity about race and ethnicity that we try to model in our home and teach our daughter. When kids are also exposed to media that is not culturally sensitive or inclusive, it is just another means for them to become intolerant, at least in my opinion. So, to answer some of your questions above, yes, I do think it would make Asian Americans, of all generations, uncomfortable to see this play; that is the case for me and I am not even Asian American. It’s one thing to tell a story from a historically accurate standpoint; it’s quite another to rely on stereotypes for lack of ingenuity/creativity/energy to find more appropriate scripts. It also perpetuates the privileged white patriarchy and power positions that are just not representative of how many of us actually feel in this current era; so many of us do want all races/classes/cultures represented “at the table” so it is mind boggling that they chose this play when there are countless others they could have done. My last thought is that there is not enough community/public discussion about race/class/ethnicity, especially in the formative years. So, if most of us are relying on families to discuss this in their own homes, we are going to be light years behind where we should be on this issue, particularly since so many do not seem to even talk about it at all. By the time an individual enters college or the workforce where perhaps more discussions about diversity are the norm, it is almost too late by then. It would be great if there were a way to introduce this topic, in a respectful and open way, to allow kids to talk about it from very early on so that by the time they are in positions of power (like at the school) they will not make choices like this.

    • ElliF says:

      Kristen, thank you for chiming in here. You made many important points which really resonate with me. Your voice is greatly appreciated!

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Kristen,
      Thank you so much for joining our conversation. I appreciate your perspective and insight as to how racism begins and spreads and the need for discussion around race/class/ethnicity during the formative years. We have Understanding Our Differences that focuses on special needs but we don’t anything about race/class/ethnicity here in Newton.

      In my recent discussions about race, my neighbor who is Latina, told me that Asian American success is resented. She said, “Asian Americans are perceived as getting all the good jobs and getting into all the best schools. People resent it and that’s why there are ceilings to prevent Asian Americans from getting more spots at top college while in the same breath, these schools are using quotas to bring in other people of color.” She thinks it’s preposterous that there is a system of quotas reward some minority groups while punishing others.

      But if you look back historically, there have always been laws in place to prevent or limit the success of Asian Americans. In fact, the law that put Japanese Americans into concentrations camps (my mother was among those forced move from her home), was driven by people like the Knott Family (of Knotts Berry Farm, ironically my first job) whose motivation was to put the Japanese American tenant farmers out of business because they were difficult to compete with in a business like strawberry farming that is back breaking labor.

      It comes down to economics and power. Why is there a bamboo ceiling? Why aren’t Asian American actors allowed to be cast as leads where the roles are sex symbols. Why aren’t Asian American high school students allowed to compete for college admissions based on their accomplishments? Why does race have to play a role when it forces them to compete against themselves at a much higher standard? Why is there a “ceiling” quota system to prevent Asian Americans from getting into top colleges?

      I would think that as China continues to rise in global economic power, there will be a backlash and it will come in many forms. Some forms will be in entertainment that is Anti-Asian. Once this is acceptable, then it will be much easier to enact laws meant to squelch Asian success. Much like the long and sad history in America of Anti-Asian laws that were enacted and that lasted for decades.

      It’s interesting too that while there is a history of racism in American against all immigrant groups, not just those from Asia but Europe and elsewhere, there weren’t specific laws put into place against any other minority groups — just Asians were specifically targeted.

      Another thing that is interesting. My Asian American friends here in Newton are also unhappy with this production but are uncomfortable speaking out. We are a voiceless, invisible, and non-confrontational minority group. And also perhaps there is not a forum that feels safe for us to voice our dissent. And maybe there never will be because the backlash is real and damaging.

  13. Pragmatic Mom says:

    I would like to start a new discussion and hope that director Bradley Jensen will chime in:

    1) Can bullying be in the form of humor?

    2) Is racism bullying?

    3) Does modeling behavior encourge that behavior?

    4) When would you justify modeling negative behavior?

  14. PammyPam says:

    I remember watching this movie as a teen. I loved the music but was conflicted with the portrayal of the Asian characters, knowing that if the characters were in Blackface I’d be angry and assuming that Asians must be offended by this too.

    Was very surprised to discover this came to Broadway and havent followed up to see how they’ve changed it. The high schools in our area often perform Broadway musicals and i’ve seen postings for this one locally (Philadelphia region). My eyes fell out of my head when i saw postings for this. I was all like WHAT? and IS THIS FOR REAL??

    I’m shaking my head in frustration. We have not come this far in our quest for HUMAN rights to sing and dance to music about white slavery and perpetuating racial stereotypes.

    This is NOT my happy face. 🙁

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi PammyPam,
      Thanks so much for your response. The movie and the musical are different but both, to my understanding and I’ll know better tonight have anti-Asian racism embedded into the plot and characters.

      Just to educate myself on Blackface vs. Yellowface, I looked it up:

      East Asians have not always been accurately represented in Hollywood. Many times, Asian characters have been portrayed predominantly by white actors, often while artificially changing their looks with makeup in order to approximate East Asian facial characteristics, a practice known as yellowface. Media portrayals of East Asians in the American media’s history have predominantly reflected a dominant Americentric perception rather than realistic and authentic depictions of true cultures, customs and behaviors.

      Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used by white performers to represent a black person. It is often considered offensive, because it can imply stereotyped caricature of black people as in minstrel shows, and later vaudeville. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation” or the “dandified coon”.

      Blackface was an important performance tradition in the American theater for roughly 100 years beginning around 1830. It quickly became popular elsewhere, particularly so in Britain, where the tradition lasted longer than in the US, occurring on primetime TV as late as 1978 (The Black and White Minstrel Show)[4] and 1981.

      By the mid-20th century, changing attitudes about race and racism effectively ended the prominence of blackface makeup used in performance in the U.S. and elsewhere. It remains in relatively limited use as a theatrical device and is more commonly used today as social commentary or satire.

      It seems that Yellowface is still acceptable in the year 2014!

  15. amysangiolo says:

    A response has been issued by the Theater Department at Newton North High School regarding the concerns raised from their decision to produce Thoroughly Modern Millie.
    If someone can forward me their email, I can forward it. I am not technically advanced enough to figure out how to post a pdf. Sorry. Please email me at: aldermansangiolo@gmail.com.

    Thanks.

  16. Pragmatic Mom says:

    Dick Scanlan, the lyricist and co-book writer of “Millie,” said in an interview on Mondaythat he and the show’s composer, Jeanine Tesori, had approved the school’s sanitized version of “Millie” and suggested some new lyrics and other ideas. Performances of “Millie” will begin this Thursday as originally planned.

    “I have given my blessing because, while I understand angry parents, for me heartbroken kids trump angry parents,” Mr. Scanlan said. “The narrative basically remains the same, and Asian girls would play the two roles that were Chinese in the original, though the characters would have common names. What is missing is a deliberate political choice that Michael Mayer, Jeanine, and I made years ago to portray Asian stereotypes and then challenge them in order to bust them.” Mr. Mayer directed the Broadway production.

    I have a problem with this because obviously Michael Mayer, Jeanine and Dick Scanlan are not Asian Americans nor did they seem to study Asian American history and therefore wrote a 2002 musical that is historically inaccurate with dated Asian stereotypes. And this is also the rationale that NNHS gives — busting Asian stereotypes. They are using the wrong stereotypes and erasing the history of what actually happened to Asian Americans during the 1920s. We, as Asian Americans, don’t need this kind of help. While it comes from the right place, it’s misguided and damaging though it certainly does not seem intentional.

    • ElliF says:

      Replicating stereotypes does not bust them.

      Making excuses for stereotypes furthers the damage they do.

      White writers, composers, lyricists, and directors who use their white privilege to misrepresent people of color further marginalize those people and strengthen the foundation of racism in this country.

      When these same artists attempt to make their racism less offensive, i.e. more palatable, by further diluting the history and experiences of the people they are already misrepresenting, they only add insult to injury.

      Conflating the issue of racism and the need to talk about it honestly with a false dichotomy of “angry parents” vs. “heartbroken students” only serves to distract from the real issues, prevent important and necessary dialogues about racism and white privilege from taking place, further split the community, and continue the historical tradition of blaming people of color for the racism within our culture.

      When white teachers and administrators make decisions about material which misrepresents Asian Americans without engaging the Asian teachers, students, and families in their own school in that decision making process, they send strong messages of disrespect and continue a historical tradition of making the non-white members of the community invisible.

      NNHS and the Newton Schools should make a commitment to transform their token “diversity programs” into new policies and practices which are guided by the voices of the people they are meant to include, respect, and represent.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi ElliF,
        It’s clear to me that they need to add a person of color to this department who had significant say in the selections they choose and well as be able to suggest revisions to make every production more inclusive. I don’t have any confidence in the current team. They hear but they don’t listen.

        • ElliF says:

          Yes, yes, yes! NNHS needs to add multiple people of color to this department — and really to every department. Given these events, however, they should start with the English and Theater programs.

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi ElliF,
            Seriously, there are no teachers of color at Newton North High School? That’s not possible, is it??!!

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi ElliF,
        I couldn’t agree with you more!

  17. Pragmatic Mom says:

    I am posting an excerpt from an email and hope to get permission to post it in its entirety:

    “Asian American faculty members at Newton and the AACC have been trying to tell the director of Theater Ink, the chair of the department of Performing Arts and the principal how offensive the play is since it was first announced. They’ve made some slight changes but they still don’t get why it’s offensive and there’s no telling what the actual performances will be like.

    THanks so much again for speaking up against this. [Asian American faculty members and students] have been feeling shut out and dismissed so voices from the community really help a lot. (The school officials still may not get why it’s bad, but they’ll understand bad PR and bad press, so please keep it up. I look forward to reading a review of the performance if you are able to go.)”

  18. TheatreMom says:

    I do not want to live in a world of “sanitized” theatre.

    We know from science that over-sanitizing kills our ability to fight the bad stuff. Thus, theatre that makes us made, makes us think, or makes us argue MUST be allowed to be performed. Theatre holds up a warped mirror to society and shows us ourselves through a different lens. Sometimes we don’t like what we see, and that’s a good thing- it reminds us we can do better.

    Because of this debate, I have learned from you about the Exclusion Act- something I knew nothing about! Because of this debate, that cast of mostly white teenagers can now speak to the importance of rejecting stereotypes. Ok, they examined the no-longer-relevant 1920’s cultural stereotypes, but it’s a start! (Don’t be mad at the theatre faculty for that one- take it up with Michelle Leong and Charlene Beh who led the discussion. I assume they focused on the stereotypes that were actually IN the show and needed to be addressed.)

    I hope when your daughter attends North next year you will get involved in the ongoing dialogue and continue to educate the larger community about the current relevant stereotypes and problems, like the lack of Asian lead roles. There is an annual playwright’s festival at North- encourage the students to write about lead characters who are Asian. As to the casting of Millie, I can absolutely guarantee you that the director would have used colorblind casting for the leads had the right actor/actress of color auditioned.

    I am glad you saw the performance and gave credit to the actors. I would personally love to see it again and watch Ezra and Hiroki’s faces while they acted, instead of having to read the translations. I thought they did a wonderful job of portraying vulnerable, genuine characters as opposed to the original stereotypes. I hope the depth of their performances can help you see that Adam and Brad really care about fighting racism and teaching students to do the same.

    Peace.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Thank you for weighing in Theatre Mom,
      Your comment about “sanitized theatre” is a good point. I will have to ponder that. But I was disturbed to find this on the MTI website:

      This is from the Q and A help MTI offers via a forum.
      charles apple
      charles apple:How do I approach the subject of white slavery with the cast? I’m getting concerns from parents…..ugh.
      (52 days ago)
      Rebecca Levy
      Rebecca Levy:Did it two years ago and it never came up. What exactly are their concerns or comments?
      (52 days ago)
      charles apple
      charles apple:Oh, there are Chinese members of the potential cast. AND in that the white slavery was sex related seems to be a lot of over sensitivity to a topic that is such a minor plot point. However, I squelched it by citing other shows and those controversial topics….. I mean, come on. However, I will apporach the topic withthe cast and parents and guarantee that they understand the topic, what it means and that we NEVER go into it to any degree. I don’t even know if the audience would catch the poing of white slavery if we didn’t point it out directly.
      (51 days ago)
      Cindy Ripley
      Cindy Ripley:Charles, Your technique of citing other shows is exactly what I was going to suggest. We sometimes get similar concerns about the gambling in “Guys and Dolls” etc. History has always been the “go to” explanation. A tremendous number of shows have significant historical references that we do not condone in any setting, yet it contributes to the plot point and story line sometimes with humor. Anxious to see how it settles out. So important to discuss it with your kids if it is indeed a question.

      This makes me think that the racism issues raised are not for a lens to make us think.

      I am also surprised after seeing the show that only the subservient male Asian stereotype was in the show. I suppose you could consider Mrs. Meers fake Chinese as Dragon Lady but the stereotype implied an overtly sexualized woman and Mrs. Meers was not protrayed as attractive nor sexualized. There wasn’t the Kung Foo warrior either in the show. So the stereotyping training had four stereotypes, only one of which was featured in the show.

      It’s also strange that yellowface wasn’t covered in the sensitivity training — when a white person pretends to be Asian because that was also featured though there is argument its not exactly yellowface since she reveals she is white on the show.

      Using this show to fight racism … that’s still a stretch for me. There are many more shows available that do this much better. But I will consider that more closely. I do note that the issue of racism in the play came up in my son’s computer programming tutor’s English class. He’s a junior at Newton North. He said that several kids talked about whether TMM is racist but he did not say what they concluded. I guess off the cuff conversations are good though if they dismissed the racist elements in the play I could see how Asian Americans in that classroom who were not a part of the conversation would feel marginalized. He did not indicate if this was a discussion lead by a teacher. I gathered that it was not.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Theatre Mom,
      I’m curious how you feel about Blackface. For example, The Jazz Singer, the story about Al Jolson. Would you want to keep Blackface in the production to keep it authentic?

      http://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2009/feb/20/blackface-musical-al-jolson

    • ElliF says:

      Hi TheatreMom. I think your comments are based on the false premise that arguments for anti-racism practices in our public schools are the equivalent of “sanitizing” the materials, experiences, and events within those institutions. Another way of rephrasing this would be to say that you are arguing that racism in our schools makes the materials, experiences, and lives of our students, teachers, and families richer and more educational.

      I strongly disagree.

      There is a difference between selecting and using a musical that is blatantly racist in its portrayal of the characters (particularly the characters of color), historical events, and attitudes towards issues of race, vs. selecting and performing a musical that is well crafted to examine and explore issues of race and racism. Thoroughly Modern Millie is the former, not the latter.

      Please take the time to get better educated about issues of race, racism, and white privilege, including about the direct, measurable ways that racist practices — both overt and covert — in our schools, communities, and country cause educational, emotional, psychological, and physical harm to children, teens, and adults. That harm is taking place in Newton right now — it has been for a while — and I believe we all have a responsibility to address these problems directly without making excuses that some people benefit from racism.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Thank you ElliF for your counter argument to TheatreMom:

        “…you [TheatreMom] are arguing that racism in our schools makes the materials, experiences, and lives of our students, teachers, and families richer and more educational.”

      • TheatreMom says:

        Woah, back up Ladies! You are totally putting words in my mouth, er, fingers.

        “Sanitized” was the word the blogger used in reference to the edited version of TMM done by the Dalton School.

        The word scares me. It reminds me of the higher-up officials taking a black pen and marking out whatever they find unacceptable. It actually reminds me of what the Chinese government does when blocking content on their version of Facebook!

        I think the production team of the Broadway version of TMM took what was a god-awful racist movie, based in the slapstick racist comedy style of the Vaudeville era, and made an honest attempt to revive it with the sensitivity of the 21st century. Maybe the felt there was justice to be done by creating Bun Foo and Ching Ho into characters with true dignity. Did they go far enough? Obviously not. You’re right- when rewriting this show they did not need to even keep the Asian aspects or the human trafficking in the subplot. But the play is what it is, and it is a far cry better than the original movie.

        Anyway, I am in a constant learning process broadening my understanding of anti-bias and cultural appropriation. I’ll never know everything I need to know, and our society will hopefully keep shifting towards more understanding and respect.

        Blackface/Jolson: Good question! I don’t know this script, so I don’t know if it presents the reasons of why blackface was used and presents any kind of counter to it. I think it would have to be done with the clear understanding that people find it shocking and offensive, and that you are purposefully making the audience uncomfortable (which Millie was not trying to do).
        Personally I find it extremely offensive when people dress up for Halloween as another race! Theatre is a more complicated venue because it depends on the story and the message being told.
        So whether I would keep Jolson in blackface depend on the environment in which I was producing the play.. So in a middle school? Absolutely not. That age is not ready as a group to understand the complexities of the issue. High school or college, maybe with enough opportunities for teaching worked in.

        It does not seem fair that more people are shocked by “blackface” than by “yellowface,” and maybe with more conversation and awareness that will even out in time.

        Question for you ladies: What do you think of a, say, community theater performing The King and I or Flower Drum Song with a mixed-race cast?

        -TM

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Hi Theatre Mom,
          I think I saw The King and I a long, long time ago but I don’t really remember it very well. Flower Drum Song, I’m told, is less offensive to Asians.

          I am not a big musical theatre person myself. I would say taht I don’t mind a mixed race cast when the musical is trying to tell a story that does prey on racial stereotypes for a cheap laugh. I don’t remember anything racist in The King and I. There was a sad love story of a woman forced to marry the King who had to give up her true love. The English woman loved the King too. There was a lot of dancing and singing. I completely forget how it ended. The sad love story woman ended up as a nun? Was her true love killed? I can’t remember.

          For the King and I, if a theatre group wasn’t able to cast the Asian parts with Asian and say, a non Asian played the part of the true love, I would have no problem with that at all. It’s not like the true love would pretend to be Asian and cop a broken English accent for a laugh. We would not be laughing at the expense of people who speak English as a second language.

          I don’t think anyone does Blackface anymore either. I never saw it in college or in local theatre productions. Can you tell me if it is still widely done? I truly think not. It’s clearly offensive and people get that. They seem to have trouble realizing that Yellowface is equally offensive to Asians. I truly have no idea why this is so confusing.

          • TheatreMom says:

            (Thank you for this great conversation!!)
            So it sounds like “yellowface” is when the intent is to derive humor at the expense of the Asian culture through negative stereotypes, but not so much if the characters are sincere portrayals, like in The King and I, even if the non-Asian actor choose to darken their hair and use eyeliner to try to look Asian? (I really want to understand where the offense lies.)

            This is where I don’t think Mrs Meers is offensive because we are not laughing at Asian culture, but at the fact that her impersonation is so wrong and she thinks she’s brilliant.

            Thanks!
            TM

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi TheatreMom,
            I have heard this several times as justification; exactly what you say about Mrs. Meers not being offensive but I don’t you can assume the audience is getting this point.

            For example, on Tuesday, the 8th graders Stepped Up to Newton North from Day Middle School to learn about elective choices. And, all week, my daughter’s 8th grade Chinese teacher who does not speak English as her first language was bullied and ridiculed in class for her English by students. In fact, by Friday, this teacher broke down in tears in front of the class.

            I think this is a clear example of how using racism as a teaching methodology by way of stage can be egregiously misunderstood and misused.

            I have reached out to the superintendent, school committes and both principals involved to make sure this gets taken care of in a sensitive and urgent way. I am hopeful that it will be dealt with tomorrow (Monday).

            You might have not been laughing at a broken English Chinese accent but realize that it was taught to the actor by a teacher who actually speaks this way. I don’t think anyone can assume that the audience is also viewing Mrs. Meers in the same light. It’s just as easy to interpret laughing at Asians who can’t speak English is ok because we are doing here to Mrs. Meers who is pretending to be “them” (ie Chinese nationals).

            And honestly, yes we do not like it when a Non-Asian actor tries to look Asian. It is less offensive than when it is used to ridicule Asians but it’s still offensive. It says Asians are not good enough for this part so we need to use white people and try to make them look Asian instead which obviously does not work.

            In the case of small towns trying to put on The King and I and it’s impossible because no one who is Asian lives within 100 miles, I would understand that this is the best they can do. They are not overlooking Asians for the part as in Hollywood and how this has happened repeatedly in the past. I have no problem with that.

          • Irene says:

            “So it sounds like “yellowface” is when the intent is to derive humor at the expense of the Asian culture through negative stereotypes, but not so much if the characters are sincere portrayals, like in The King and I, even if the non-Asian actor choose to darken their hair and use eyeliner to try to look Asian? (I really want to understand where the offense lies.)”

            I really appreciate that you want to understand exactly what “yellowface” means. In that vein, I must disagree with your proposed definition.

            The term “yellowface” is not even found in the online dictionary merriam-webster.com, but to me – an Asian-American – the term “yellowface” is any time make-up or a feigned accent is used for a non-Asian to portray an Asian role, whether the intent is to cause offense, to convey humor, or even to be sincere.

            In all productions, whenever possible, an Asian actor should be chosen to portray an Asian character. If, for whatever reason, an Asian actor is not available – maybe the Asian cast for the role got sick, and a non-Asian understudy has to take his place – then a non-Asian could portray the Asian character, but WITHOUT any feigned accent or make-up to look more Asian. (I would allow for one exception: If the role was for, say, an overseas Chinese person visiting America, and even an Asian actor would use an accent, then an accent would be okay, because it would be part of the role itself, like a British accent in a Harry Potter movie, NOT intended for a laugh or as a stereotype.)

            Still, I do believe that EVERY effort must be put forward to cast Asians in Asian roles. If an Asian could not be found to portray an Asian role, I do think the entire production should be re-considered. (Unless, like Pragmatic Mom mentioned, there literally is no Asian actor within 100 miles of the production, say.)

            I think a good way to understand the offense is to simply substitute “black” for “Asian”.

            For example, in the movie “12 Years a Slave”, would it be okay for any of the slaves to have been portrayed by a white actor? Would anyone even consider casting a white person in a role in which the African-American race was a defining character for the role?

            A really good example of how yellowface is offensive, but not recognized as such in America, is the 2012 movie “Cloud Atlas”. Have you seen it? Here is an article you might find interesting:

            http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cloud-atlas-asian-actors-yellow-face-MANAA-383070

            This excerpt in particular drives home the point:

            “You have to ask yourself: Would the directors have used blackface on a white actor to play Gyasi’s role?” asked Aoki [founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans], referring to David Gyasi, the freed slave in the film. I don’t think so: That would have outraged African American viewers. But badly done yellowface is still OK.”

            When my husband (who is Caucasian) and I watched “Cloud Atlas”, the first time we saw Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving in yellowface, I was floored. I could not believe such blatant racism could be portrayed in mainstream Hollywood. Neither of us knew the story lines of the movie ahead of time, and my husband, also in disbelief, assured me that those people weren’t really meant to be Asian – surely they were supposed to be some kind of hybrid alien / robot / human race. But no, they were supposed to be Korean, and yes, it was offensive, even though there was no ill-will. IMPACT is separate from INTENT. The INTENT of the producers and actors may have been to bust racial boundaries, but instead, the IMPACT is that they offended a group of people who simply wondered why actual Asians weren’t cast in those roles, as actual African-Americans were cast for their roles.

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi Irene,
            I completely agree with you regarding Yellowface. And you are right; just substitute Blackface with Yellowface and then see if there is a different reaction.

            Thanks for the link to Cloud Atlas:

            “Cloud Atlas missed a great opportunity. The Korea story’s protagonist is an Asian man–an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers,” Guy Aoki, MANAA’s founding president, said in a statement. “He’s the one who liberates [a clone played by actress] Doona Bae from her repressive life and encourages her to join the resistance against the government. It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren’t allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often.

            There is also anger at the reverse racial transformations. In pointing out scenes in which Bae and another Asian woman in the storyline, Xun Zhou, are made to look Caucasian, Aoki added “obviously took more care to make them look convincingly white. The message the movie sends is, it takes a lot of work to get Asians to look Caucasian, but you can easily turn Caucasians into Asians by just changing the shape of their eyes.

            You have to ask yourself: Would the directors have used blackface on a white actor to play Gyasi’s role?” asked Aoki, referring to David Gyasi, the freed slave in the film. I don’t think so: That would have outraged African American viewers. But badly done yellowface is still OK.”

            ————-

            But badly done yellowface is still OK.

            I think this is the message that we need to drive home. This is where the confusion lies. “But badly done yellowface is still OK.” It is not! It is not ok when the character is evil and pretending to be a good actress when, in fact she is not. It is not ok because it is a historically based play written a million years ago. It is not ok when it is well intentioned. It is not ok as an education tool to teach racist stereotypes. I hope that clears up some lingering confusion.

          • TheatreMom says:

            Thank you for helping me understand your feelings about “yellowface.” It really helps me as a director and teacher to know what you feel. I don’t want to assume, though, that every Asian person feels the same way as you. We all need to be aware of the danger of a “single story.”
            But I understand that your reactive anger comes from direct experience of being insulted, bullied or marginalized because if your race- an action so deplorable it makes me want to scream. I have not had that experience, as a Caucasian, but I have been bullied, judged, marginalized etc because of my gender, sexuality, religion and political views, or just for being different than my peers. So maybe we non-Asians have more in common with you than you realize. If we can see those commonalities we can work together for more just and peaceful world.

            Not all white people are privileged. Many of us, especially those involved in the arts, want to make the world a better place. Perhaps I (and maybe the NNHS faculty) have too much faith that Joe Theater-Goer in Newton will understand those subtleties and ironies and because this people in this progressive community already know that it’s wrong to make fun of s

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi TheatreMom,
            I would ask you to find Asians who speak out in support of yellowface via online searches. Seriously, Asians do not like it. I feel comfortable speaking for my kind.

            Please see this link from Media Action Network for Asian Americans which corroborates this: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cloud-atlas-asian-actors-yellow-face-MANAA-383070

        • ElliF says:

          Hi again, TheatreMom. Thanks for your response. I appreciate you participating in this dialogue.

          To be honest, I think that if a school selects a racist play and insists on performing it, there are few easy choices left to address the many problems that such a choice highlights.

          From my perspective, the real issue in the kind of situation we are currently dealing with here is that NNHS and the Newton Schools need to change their policies in order for the schools 1) to listen to the people of color they are stereotyping for entertainment purposes, 2) to engage more people of color in teaching positions in the theater and English departments, 3) to start an ongoing, meaningful process of educating its teachers, staff, students, and families about race, racism, and white privilege, and 4) to involve many more people of color in the decision-making process in situations like this so that more culturally competent decisions are made in the future.

          The Newtonite reported that English teacher Bradley Jensen selected this musical because of the many female roles and dance numbers. Do you really think that people in Newton would find it acceptable if he’d selected an anti-Semitic musical because it had good dance numbers or a play with anti-black racism (use of blackface, a minstrel show, etc.) because a lot of female students could be in it? I am certain there would have been outrage at such a decision. This begs the question: Why is anti-Asian stereotyping and racism more acceptable in Newton?

          I am aware that there are certain “beloved classics” that continue to be performed in many venues spite of their racism. Many people seem to equate something being “beloved” or “a classic” — although I would suggest that Thoroughly Modern Millie is neither — as an excuse to condone and ignore the racism in a play.

          Personally, I think that’s really wrong, but if a theater group is going to insist on producing such a play, I believe they have an enormous responsibility to address the racism long before it see the light of the stage. One example might be when the Wheelock Family Theatre produced the musical, Peter Pan. They did a lot of up front work to get the necessary permission to rewrite parts of the play in significant ways, including one of the songs. I think they might have also worked with the local Wampanoag community to get better informed about how to handle these issues. Wheelock did this because they were unwilling to perpetrate further stereotypes and racism against Native American people.

          If NNHS was going to insist on using a racist musical — a huge problem in itself — they at least had an obligation to do what Wheelock did. I don’t buy the excuse that it would have been difficult or taken too long to do this. Racism is not OK. It hurts people in our schools and community. End of argument.

          What Wheelock did was not sanitizing. Their theater company took a stand against racism and invested a lot of time, energy, creativity, and community building at all stages in decision making, selecting, rewriting, composing, and performing the musical of Peter Pan. Their performances were awesome — better than the original — and did no harm.

          What NNHS did was a poorly executed, feeble attempt at fixing a racist play without even understanding the problems within it. It did not adequately address the racism at all; it excluded an Asian student who was unwilling to perform in a racist production (and how many more students, I wonder?); it offended and hurt Asian teachers, students, and families in the North and Newton community, and it set a standard in the Newton Schools that normalizing racism for entertainment purposes is OK. It’s really, really not.

          I think you can only call what the NNHS did with this entire decision making, selection, and performing process, “…an honest attempt to revive it with sensitivity…” if you are thinking from a place of white privilege.

          There are simply no excuses left in the world today to rationalize performing racist material for entertainment purposes. None.

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi ElliF,
            Are you going tomorrow night to Little Theatre at 7pm? Your voice would really be appreciated. I am debating whether or not to go. Honestly, I do have a bit of trouble controlling my temper and might say something I would later regret.

            Your perspective is dead on and you say it much more eloquently than I can or would. I hope you can make it tomorrow night.

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Hi Theatre Mom,

          I have heard several people argue that Mrs. Meers Chinese accent is not offensive to Asians or Asian Americans because she is evil and is bad at pretending to be Chinese.

          I don’t think the audience gets that point even with the note on page 59. Honestly, I read the note (and only during intermission because it was too dark to read it when it was pointed out) and I thought the actress had trouble mastering the broken Chinese accent. I actually think in the script the actress IS supposed to have a perfect broken English Chinese accent.

          How can the audience differentiate between the lack of skills of the actual actress trying to pull off a Chinese accent versus Mrs. Meers trying to pull off a Chinese accent. There is no way to assume ANYONE can tell who is bad at the accent. That is too subtle a point to expect anyone to realize.

          Rebuttals please!

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi Theatre Mom,
            This is the “sanitization” The Dalton School did:

            “But after an outcry from students and feedback from creators of the musical, Dalton announced on Monday that it would put on a revised production that will drop references to Asia, change the names of two Chinese characters, and describe incidents of human trafficking as simple kidnappings.”

            “According to the e-mail, “several members of the community” had concerns about “the play’s use of racial stereotypes and references to human trafficking,” and efforts to change the script proved “insufficient,” leading administrators to make plans for the song revue as well as “a forum featuring leading academics and practitioners” to discuss race and theater.”

            Because this is a minor subplot, the story of Thoroughly Modern Millie is not affected, in fact, it’s improved by removing the offensive parts in my opinion.

            Here’s another question: Why is NNHS’s reaction to concerns so different from The Dalton School? Someone suggested this is because The Dalton School is private whereas Newton North High School is public. Another suggested that perhaps the complaint from The Dalton School writes big checks so that person had to be taken seriously.

            What do you think? Two schools. Same complaints. Two very different reactions. Two very different results.

            The Dalton School: “Oh it’s racist with human trafficking and that is not ok. We will delay our production in order to remove the offensive parts through a rewrite.”

            Newton North High School: “What racism? Oh that? We’re using it to break stereotypes. Stereotypes that we don’t personally understand but still we are confident in our ability to educate the audience without actually engaging them. It’s because we educated the cast and they will do it through their fine acting skills.”

  19. Pragmatic Mom says:

    I am posting a comment I received via email:

    Mia, very thought-provoking commentary, I read all and agree with your sentiments.

    What is galling is Bradley Jensen’s casual, even cavalier “yeah, it is offensive…so what” attitude, followed by Kelsey Fox’s dismissal of the slur simply because she says she’s going to play it for a laugh.

    If they do have the chutzpah to go forward with this, then let’s hope they will follow this outrage with a “send-up” of the Little Rascals including a Buckwheat character who, while lazily eating watermelon on a break from his shoeshining after school job, gets lost in a dark building, and “afraid” stumbles about, only the whites of his eyes visible.

    Or how about a kneeslapper version of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice featuring a beak-nosed Shylock, hunched over and sporting peyes, all sinister and greedy, haggling over pennies.

    Do you think those productions would be even contemplated?

    The sad secret in this country is that Asian Americans are an invisible minority; they are too busy studying, working and leading lives of quiet dignity and orderly, cooperative behavior and up to now, too polite to make a fuss.

    On a personal note, my own high school drama teacher, Molly Lopata, told me when I auditioned for the part of Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, that if we were doing West Side Story, I’d have a better shot as Maria or Anita, when actually I shouldn’t have been considered for any of those 3 roles, because I simply couldn’t sing!

  20. TheatreMom says:

    (Finishing last comment)
    ..to make fun of someone’s race.
    I shall say no more, except to say that we have the same goals- to end racism and make the world better for our kids.

    Peace,
    TM

    • Irene says:

      “I don’t want to assume, though, that every Asian person feels the same way as you. We all need to be aware of the danger of a “single story.””

      Please don’t confuse a “single story” with the plight of an entire race. There is no doubt that Asian-Americans battle racism in the media. The mere existence of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans means that it’s a big enough problem for people to organize a united defense. That some Asian-American do not take offense at yellowface does not mean yellowface is not a problem to contend with.

      Again, just replace “Asian” with “black”. Are there some black people who aren’t offended by blackface? Yeah, like Whoopie Goldberg:

      http://blog.zap2it.com/pop2it/2011/11/whoopi-goldberg-talks-blackface-on-the-view-leaves-out-that-whole-ted-danson-thing.html

      But it’s Whoopie’s minority opinion that is the “single story” within the more widely accepted view that blackface is wrong.

      “Perhaps I (and maybe the NNHS faculty) have too much faith that Joe Theater-Goer in Newton will understand those subtleties and ironies…”

      Yes, I very much agree that NNHS gave the audience too much credit. On this very thread, we have seen comments, like those from See Jay, that deny that racism was even an issue in “Thoroughly Modern Millie”, and that dismiss opinions of those who disagree with him as “unnecessary”.

      I want to say, I really appreciate that you are taking the time to truly think about and understand this issue from “the other perspective”. Though you may have experienced discrimination based on gender or religion or any number of other reasons, each kind of discrimination truly is different, and it’s actually quite difficult to extrapolate from your own experiences what it must be like for someone else. I have first-hand experience with racism against Asian-Americans, and I feel personally connected to the historical injustices perpetrated against the Chinese, but I would not purport to have a full understanding of what it means to be Jewish, and how they survived the holocaust, or to be African-American, and how they had to rise above the weight of slavery.

      Thank you for treating this issue with the gravitas it deserves. I hope your students and the shows you direct will be positively affected by the ideas you have been exposed to here, and I hope you continue to seek out the perspectives of people of color as you encounter opportunities to do so.

      • ElliF says:

        Great post, Irene. Thanks for sharing your voice here!

      • Susan says:

        I was just reading some of the comments on the Globe coverage and I couldn’t take it…. this was a great piece to re-center myself around. thanks

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Hi Susan,
          I am not reading any of those comments but my husband says they are quite terrible. I guess this means there is quite a bit of work to do out there regarding racism against Asians and Asian Americans.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Thank you for joining the conversation. Your voice is an important one and we all benefit from hearing your perspective.

  21. Irene says:

    It may interest you – and the NNHS administration – to know that this issue has caught the attention of the Angry Asian Man blog. This post is listed in his latest “Read These Blogs” roundup:

    http://blog.angryasianman.com/2014/03/read-these-blogs_16.html

    For those who don’t know:

    “Angry Asian Man is a leader in broadcasting Asian American news, pop culture, and discrimination to the greater Asian Pacific American community. The Washington Post calls Angry Asian Man “a daily must-read for the media-savvy, socially conscious, pop-cultured Asian American.””

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Thanks Irene,
      I sent it to him. I met a bunch of Asian American bloggers through the White House Initiative for AAPIs inaugural press conference a few years ago. It was good of him to include us. I need to go to his blog to thank him and do a social media shout out:

      @angryasianman: Read These Blogs

      http://blog.angryasianman.com/2014/03/read-these-blogs_16.html?spref=tw

      Thanks for including us

      http://ilovenewton.com/modern-millie-racist/

      Your powerful voice is appreciated.

      • ElliF says:

        I had sent it to Angry Asian Man, too. Long-time reader and fan of his blog!

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Hi ElliF,
          I really appreciate Angry Asian Man’s support. He is the lone “Rosa Parks” who is willing to speak out for an invisible, voiceless and non-confrontational Asian and Asian American community which makes us easy targets.

          • Susan says:

            Yes, I saw him in San Fran last week and nudged him about this too! He said it’s always easier to do it when there’s another site/center of conversation he can direct people to! @Pragmatic Mom, thanks for carrying the flag. It takes much strength put it out in the community. Glad to have an angry asian woman in the newton community!

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Thanks Susan,
            It is fair to share the burden of fighting against racism and I am grateful to all of you who help. Thank you all! Please let Angry Asian Man know that today there were two more Op Ed pieces in the Boston Globe and a video from WGBH. I will continue to post all links to all my posts so that they are easy to find and also so that everyone can see all the different viewpoints of this very important debate.

  22. Natalie says:

    I agree with the entire article, except for the idea that one of the Chinese boys falling in love with a white girl is “racist”. I actually think it’s the opposite of racist because it’s showing that interracial love is okay.

  23. John says:

    GUYS!!! It’s a movie and musical. It’s supposed robe fun not offensive. If you nit pick at every little thing you see then your kind of annoying. So what if it’s a little racist. It’s supposed to be fun. Plus, the Chinese boys are supposed to be a comedy relief, so what better name then Ching Ho and Bun Foo. It’s all just supposed to make it fun.

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