racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

NNHS Responds to Concerns About Thoroughly Modern Millie

This letter was released today in response to the issues related to “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” as outlined on this blog and elsewhere. Village 14

racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Department of Fine & Performing Arts

Newton North High School

March 13, 2014

This letter is in response to some recent concerns surrounding Newton North’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. It is important to acknowledge up front that we recognize the concerns that have been brought forward. We appreciate the open and honest dialogue and hope that the information in this letter will help us all understand the work that has gone into this production and the teaching and learning that will continue long after this weekend.

In choosing Thoroughly Modern Millie for production we recognized early on that there are some significant challenges in regard to the stereotypes portrayed in the show.  We ultimately decided to produce the work, but took deliberate steps to address these concerns directly from the onset:

  • Michele Leong, English Teacher and Director of the Office Human Rights and Charlene Beh, English Teacher at Newton North have been a helpful resource to the faculty, staff,and students involved in this production. They led the cast/crew in workshops about the stereotypes portrayed in the musical. They also were instrumental in educating the staffand students on Asian Stereotypes in the media and its impact on our society. Ms. Beh also attended a rehearsal and gave helpful feedback to the production staff.
  • The students in the Asian Culture Club at North had a conversation with the director,producer and department head in which they voiced some of their concerns and suggestions.
  • We reached out to MTI, the company that owns the rights to Millie to see if a high school edition was available. Unfortunately, it was not.
  • The program includes a Production note that addresses the concerns surrounding the stereotypes.

Adam Brown, Director of Theatre Ink, in his opening words to the audience at each production will make a statement about the stereotypes in Millie and invite the audience to read the production note found on page 49 as well as invite them to our talk back.

We do understand that we did not appreciate the magnitude of feelings that the play would elicit. Even as educated artists and teachers we also learn and grow in situations like this. Future selections will go through more scrutiny and we will look at issues with a keener eye. We do apologize for the impact that this has caused and may cause members of our community. Even with these steps in place, we acknowledge that for some it may not be enough. It is our sincere hope that this production is one of both artistic integrity and one where significant learning has occurred.  It certainly was never and is never our intent to offend members of our school or Newton community.

Theatre Ink prides itself on being “Newton North’s Teaching and Working Theatre.” The process of producing this show, and the thoughtful and sometimes challenging dialogue it has generated among staff, students, and the broader Newton community, exemplifies the program’s commitment to explore, critique, and interpret how the human experience is conveyed throughthe arts.  As the curtain goes up tonight we are bringing the constructive conversation and learning process that our school community has engaged in over these past few months to an audience of students, parents, and community members. We hope that you will choose to participate in it with the same appetite for learning that we have seen in our students – a genuine desire to understand our differences, our history, and ourselves.

On Monday night, March 17th, we will hold a “Talk Back” to further learn and share perspectives surrounding the arts and stereotypes, especially those presented in Millie. All are welcome to attend. The meeting will be held in Newton North High School’s Little Theatre at 7:00PM. We hope you will join us.

Sincerely,

Todd R. Young

Chair, NNHS FPA Department

 

Adam Brown

Director, Theatre Ink

 

Jennifer Price

Principal, NNHS

 

p.s. A reaction on Twitter

Arissa Oh ‏@arissaoh  Mar 14

‘we did not anticipate that ppl wd be upset that we are staging a racist show; pls come and share yr concerns so we can dismiss those too’

Arissa Oh is a professor of history at Boston University. Professor Oh’s current project examines the origins of the practice of Korean and international adoption. Her research and teaching interests include immigration and race in U.S. history, transnational Asian-American history, and Cold War social and political history. She has a B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D. from University of Chicago. She lives in Newton, MA. Follow her on Twitter.

 

Related Links:

Thoroughly Modern Millie is Thoroughly Racist

My Take on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Talk Back: Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS

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

MTI Advises How to Squelch Dissent on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie End of School Year Takeaway

Rebuttal to ’Millie in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

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

 

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

 

White Privilege and Thoroughly Modern Millie

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.

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.

Comments
25 Responses to “NNHS Responds to Concerns About Thoroughly Modern Millie”
  1. 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.)”

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      I think this pretty much sums up the situation. Asian American voices within Newton North High School were dismissed and those in charge of approving this production never expected a reaction from a group that has been historically invisible, voiceless and non-confrontational. Had they anticipated a strong reaction (as they would have from other minority groups), they most likely would have made different choices.

      I have another point. Thoroughly Modern Millie is intended for a white audience. Just as Blackface is intended for a white audience, the hilarious humor of Yellowface is lost to Asians.

  2. Pragmatic Mom says:

    It’s shame that your Talk Back is intended for angry Asians who attended the musical and not for educating the audience on busting stereotypes as promised. So the audience will walk away with both Anti-Asian stereotypes as well as a historically inaccurate representation that erases the true Asian American experience.

    This seems to be a deliberate decision as part of an educational experience. I, for one, am not impressed.

    I would also love an explanation for why the myraid of voices who raised concerns were brushed aside. How will you ensure that this won’t happen again? It’s my understanding that it takes an extensive negative PR campaign to be taken seriously. Is this really the message that you want out there?

  3. Irene says:

    I appreciate the response because it does include the least of what I hoped they would do – open the show with some comments acknowledging the stereotypes. It also includes an apology “for the impact that this has caused and may cause members of our community”. And, they pledged that “future [theater] selections will go through more scrutiny and we will look at issues with a keener eye.” All that is great – for a start.

    Like you said, they need to account for why the voices of concern were not heeded up until the last minute, when the story finally reached beyond NNHS and actually garnered interest from the broader community. It shouldn’t have had to come this far in the first place.

    I’m also disappointed that they scheduled this “Talk Back” on the Monday after. “All are welcome to attend,” but who really will? It’s not us “angry” people who need a venue in which to vent. It’s the audience members who watch the show and don’t understand the impact who would benefit from a discussion or further explanations. And I just doubt any of those people will show up at the forum. I know it’s hard logistically to include such a forum in conjunction with the show itself, but I’ve been to plays where the actors came back on stage afterwards to discuss the play, so maybe they could have done something like that, right in the moment, before people went home and moved on.

    Also, I’d be interested in reading the “production note that addresses the concerns surrounding the stereotypes”. How much will it flesh out the issue? Will it address all points of concern? Will it be enough to educate readers, or just enough to be able to say they “addressed” the issue? If you can get your hands on a program and transcribe their “note”, I would appreciate the chance to read it.

  4. z says:

    This is a very raciest play and should not be used in a High School production. Being Asian I have stood against all types of raceism thrown at me at my school and as I am entering Newton North high school next year it makes me question what kind of community I will be entering. If it is a place of hate and judging and the teachers are promoting that then why would that make the transition of schools any easier on me? Not judging any of the other commenters but seeing this play and its hate on Asians, and when your White wouldn’t be the same. You won’t feel the disrespect to your family and your community. Personally, I think this play shouldn’t have been allowed to be made at North at all. I don’t understand why they couldn’t have chosen something with a lighter subject.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Z,
      I hope that someone from Newton North High School will respond to your comment and concerns.

    • ElliF says:

      Really well said, z, and thanks for speaking up! We need more students speaking out against racist practices like this.

      Please know that you are not alone. My 8th grader is also starting North in the Fall, and her reaction was identical to yours. She no longer feels that North will necessarily provide a safe, welcoming environment for her as an Asian 9th grader.

      My hope is that your voice, the voices of additional Asian students, families, and teachers, and the voices of allies will gradually lead to a process of positive change for NNHS and the Newton Schools. It’s time for them to take racism seriously!

      And I, too, hope that someone from NNHS will respond to your comment.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi ElliF,
        Realize for everyone rising 8th grader about to enter NNHS that is willing to speak out, there are scores who feel the same way but are not willing to voice this in a public forum. I hope that NNHS will address this tonight and take concrete steps to fix this.

        Are you going tonight at 7? I hope that you will!

    • NNHS Student says:

      Hello Z,

      I just wanted to respond to you because I think the gravest concern expressed on this page is that you would feel unsafe going to Newton North. I just wanted to say, as a student, that Newton North has impressed me as an incredibly open-minded, kind and accepting school. You’d be hard pressed to find a more forward thinking high school. Evidently, you will have problems that are inherit in every high school (feeling excluded, drugs, cliques, etc.) but these problems are for the most part very limited. However, I have never witnessed any discrimination or unkindness based on race or background at Newton North. You might experience micro-agressions (being asked where you’re from and people expect you to say China or something when you’re from Boston too), but I think micro agressions are something that are at this point universal. I hope this eases your fears about Newton North.

      As it concerns the play, I think I have more accurate insights as somebody who has seen its development and been privy to the process. Let me begin by saying the intention with which this play was chosen. There are a limited repertoire of plays available to a high school theater, due to a number of prerequisites. Millie was chosen because it afforded large opportunities for female roles, which I think is admirable. Last year we did How to Succeed in Businesses, which was downright sexist and had limited female roles, and nobody complained.

      I want to also say that people are missing the context of this show and the point of theater. First of all, we must recognize that productions are a representation of a time in history. Last year we portrayed the 1960s, where a bunch of guys start at a women’s butt and drooled over it. Is that not offensive? The most controversial character in the script, Ms. Meers, is a WHITE woman in the 1920s attempting to portray an Asian American. How on earth would we expect her to not be racist, given the time period she was living in? The ignorance back then was even more profound than it is now, and that ignorance is reflected in the character. As such, her character is not poking fun at Asians but making fun of the stereotypes and the attitudes of white people themselves. Ms. Meers is over the top in her racism because it is making fun of the racism. In addition, the actress who played her did copious amounts of research and went out of her way to accurately inform herself about Asian American culture, and then she attempted to portray something that was evidently wrong (in order to indirectly poke fun at how wrong it was). We must remember that this show was about 10 years ago, so it is looking at the 1920s through a modern, more refined lens.

      In addition, questioning the production of Thoroughly Modern Millie is in itself questioning the arts. You ask why we cold not have put on a production about a “lighter subject.” What would be the point of that? What would the arts be if there was no controversy? What would we be dedicating our time to if all we did was get on stage and dance about under rainbows and pretend everything was happy in the world? The stage, the arts are a place to generate healthy controversy and discussion. They should not be censored, lest our society end up looking a bit like that of fahrenheit 451. Thoroughly Modern Millie brought up the conversation of Asian stereotypes. It can be a hard conversation. But I don’t think stereotypes should be cast away because they are politically incorrect. We have to come to acknowledge them, know that they exist, and then be able to make fun of them and say that they are dumb (which is what Millie does). Ultimately, I feel that we need to understand the role the arts have. Often the arts are controversial – even pieces of classical music were controversial in their day.

      Lastly, I, as a Newton North student, resent the negative comments that have been made about the artistic administration at Newton North. I have never met more considerate and thoughtful people than those who work in the music and theater departments. They put every ounce of their being into their jobs, staying until 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock at night to work on the production. Everything that is done in the arts at Newton North is a result of countless hours of work, of discussion and consideration. Nothing is done carelessly. Our arts department puts up shows that have controversial topics because it wants to generate that discussion and bring up these topics in an educated fashion amongst the artistic community. And when Mr. Brown, who is one of the most admirable people I have met, says he is planning a talk back tonight, it is not simply for the sake of appeasing upset parents and dismissing concerns. He truly wants to hear people’s considerations and thoughts.

      I hope that this long note might help sway some people’s opinions about the production. I know that, as someone who was a part of the production, it is deeply saddening and disappointing to see such a negative response, given all the hard work put in.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi NNHS Student,
        I appreciate your point of view and will make sure it gets relayed to Z. Were you able to make the Talk Back last night? I would love to hear your thoughts from that.

        • Irene says:

          Pragmatic Mom, did you attend the Talk Back? I would be interested in hearing your perspective on how it went. I read the Boston Globe article, which I thought was well-written, and it sounds like the school did make an effort to take responsibility and apologize.

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi Irene,
            Yes I did. I am in the process of writing that up now. I will post on it tomorrow.

  5. Romantic Dad says:

    Here is the page 49:

    Asian Stereotypes in Thoroughly Modern Millie

    I know we had a problem when I wanted to preface this production with: “The opinions expressed in this musical do not necessarily reflect the views of Newton North High School.” We’ve all seen the classic television disclaimer alerting the audience that controversial, and even offensive, attitudes remain present within the program. Without question, Thoroughly Modern Millie contains extreme negative stereotypes and offensive attitudes when depicting Asian men and women in the 1920s. However, instead of simply flashing a disclaimer along the stage before the opening number, Mr. Brown, Ms. Leong, Ms Beh, and I worked together with the Office of Human Rights to figure out a way in which to maintain the integrity of the production, while addressing these negative images head on with the community and our students. Over the past few months we have participated in discussions regarding stereotypical images of Asian men and women in the media. We participated in panels that spoke out against stereotypes and damaging images of cultural experiences within the media. We learned about the Geisha image, and the overtly sexualized Dragon Lady. We learned about the submissive Asian male stereotype, and the Kung-Foo warrior image. Consequently. some of these images will appear within our production this evening, such as Mrs. Meers’ portrayal of the Geisha girl, as well as Bun Foo and Ching Ho’s sometimes submissive male natures. Our hope was that awareness around these caricatures would allow us to dig deeper in rehearsals and find the true, human complexities of these previously flattened characters.

    While we set out to find the authentic human complexity behind the cantonese speaking Bun Foo and Ching Ho, we also addressed the wildly offensive Mrs. Meers and discussed the potential reasons for her racism. Mrs. Meers must be understood as the villain of the production. She is a racist and covers her own insecurities and life failures with hateful attitudes and behaviors. As director, I am extremely proud of the socially conscious work that our cast and community have carried out over these past few months. I believe that in doing this production, the cast, crew, and school community have become aware of the dangerous images within Thoroughly Modern Millie, and the lack of truthful portrayals of Asian and Asian-American men and women within the media today. I encourage you to continue this necessary dialogue at home with your families, using our musical as an effective conversation starter.

    So please be advised, “The opinions expressed in this musical do not necessarily reflect the views of Newton North High School… in fact they strongly oppose the beliefs and attitudes found within our school culture. Furthermore, we have worked hard to analyze and revise these images in order to align them with our socially conscious mission of acceptance and open-mindness.”

  6. Irene says:

    Thank you, Romantic Dad, for transcribing the program note.

    I just posted a reply in another related thread on this blog, but I will repeat one thought here, as it’s relevant to this thread:

    I appreciate that the school is TRYING to address the issue, but I take offense at these excerpts in the program note:

    “Without question, Thoroughly Modern Millie contains extreme negative stereotypes and offensive attitudes when depicting Asian men and women in the 1920s.”

    “I believe that doing this production, the cast, crew and school community have become aware of the dangerous images within Thoroughly Modern Millie, and the lack of truthful portrayals of Asian and Asian-American men and women within the media today. I encourage you to continue this necessary dialogue at home with your families, using our musical as an effective conversation starter.”

    It sounds like they are proud that they engaged in racism in order to create a learning experience. As Pragmatic Mom mentioned in another comment on another thread, I don’t know where they got the idea that modeling negative behavior was a good idea. If they wanted to start a discussion about “the lack of truthful portrayals of Asian and Asian-American men and women within the media today”, then they should have simply watched “Cloud Atlas” and discussed the use of yellowface in that movie! They didn’t have to go to great lengths to produce an entire show just to point a finger at it and say, “Don’t do that.”

    I feel like the school is TRYING, but they need to try harder. I would like to see an apology for having chosen this show in the first place, an apology for not heeding the protests that apparently existed from the very beginning, and a plan to outline how they will ensure that minority groups’ voices will not be shut out in the future.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Irene,
      I don’t really feel like the school is trying in all honesty. I think they wanted to do Yellowface, knew that it offended Asian Americans, did CYA (cover your ass) sensitivity training which alienated and marginalized the very group they sought help from, and pushed forward. They didn’t expect any pushback for this as Asians are notoriously invisible, voiceless and non-confrontational. This is the key. They didn’t expect any pushback. Now that this is making news, it’s a PR nightmare for them so they are doing what politicians do. They are issuing Press Releases and offering a forum to talk so they can check a box that said that we offered to talk.

      They note that this is an online forum that they are listening to but they chose not to engage. They haven’t responded to my email or left a comment. They did not send their press release to me.

      I am truly not impressed. And now there is a NNHS student who left an cyberbully comment. I am curious how they will handle that. It indicates that he is also doing this within the walls of the school.

    • ElliF says:

      Yes, thank you Romantic Dad for transcribing this here.

      Unfortunately, the statement just confirms my sense that NNHS is clueless when it comes to racism. It mistakenly equates taking token actions like doing some internal “sensitivity training,” etc., with a form of license to continue making racist choices regarding the selection and performance of this play.

      That is so wrong-minded that I can’t even begin to explain in this brief comment, but I think the sum total of Pragmatic Mom’s important blog entries on this subject, combined with all the reader responses, does start to explain it.

      I will just say that it would be one thing if NNHS was teaching a class about race and racism and as part of the curriculum, students had the option of analyzing some examples of racist material that have been embraced by and caused harm to our culture. What North has done though, is to provide this racist musical as entertainment. Nor has NNHS listened to or responded pro-actively to the students, families, and teachers whom are most directly affected by this racism.

      That should not be happening in our schools in 2014.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Hi ElliF,
        What disturbs me the most is that the very community that NNHS turned to for “sensitivity training” — the very training they are so proud of doing and feel therefore it wipes clean all offensive racism modeled in the show — felt voiceless, invisible, alienated and marginalized. What does that tell you? That’s a pretty disturbing message to me.

  7. Pragmatic Mom says:

    I think the issues are pretty clear about the negative stereotypes presented in Thoroughly Modern Millie and the attempt to make this into a lecture is pretty ironic.

    Here’s a suggestion:
    1) State the changes you are making.
    2) Execute the changes.
    3) Evaluate the changes.

    I think where you went wrong was in #3 in rationalizing why showing negative stereotypes through Thoroughly Modern Millie is acceptable.

    — The evaluation process should have noted that the teachers and students brought as resources felt marginalized.
    — The discussion for learning from presenting stereotypes was oversold. It’s was actually a 30 second commercial to read page 49 in the program guide and then have a robust conversation at home. This is meaningless.

    I look forward to substantive and successful changes.

  8. Pragmatic Mom says:

    The experience of putting on a musical that is racist has modeled to the audience and community at large a few dangerous things to the Asian community at large.

    — Anti-Asian vehicles such as Yellowface can be used for comedic relief and there is tacit permission to extend this beyond the performance such that Asians who speak broken English can be laughed at as well and indeed anyone who speaks English with a non-European accent.

    — Objections to racism expressed in performances will be largely ignored. This is further underscored by comments that specifically say that this kind of dialogue is not welcomed. Note Myra who is a parent of a performer and the anonymous See Jay who appears to be a Newton North High school student. Both wish to silence us and discredit any complaints of racism or discussion of why this is damanging.

    — NNHS decisions makers who put on this performance have refused to engage in this discussion. This also sends a very loud and clear message that this dialogue is not important and something to ignore.

    — The director of the play has never responded to my email. The press release was not posted to this site nor emailed to me.

    — The very students and teachers who were sought out for assistance in helping to teach the performers about Anti-Asian stereotypes voiced complaints for months that went unheard. They feel voiceless and marginalized. Though you might note there was a lot of lip service about the extensive Anti-Asian training the actors went through in order to justify this performance.

    — The discussion as promised by the director is to take place not at the actual performances but the following Monday night. Those most in need of it will not be attending. Indeed, the interpretation for this additional meeting is for “angry parents” to vent their frustation about not being heard. Instead, they will be treated to a discussion on stereotypes in Theatre which they don’t need and is further propaganda to justify why NNHS propagates racist material on stage and elsewhere.

    — The changes to ensure this won’t happen again are to “look through a finer lens.” It’s not the lens that is the problem. NNHS officials were told over and over again that Asians object to the racism in the musical. With less objections, The Dalton School delayed their production of Thoroughly Modern Millie and worked to create an entirely new play that removed the racism. NNHS instead brushed all objections aside and now seems befuddled that there is “a strong reaction.”

    — We ask you to engage. Here on this platform. We ask that you acknowledge us. That you hear our voices and see us. That you understand the points that we bring up and validate them.

    This is the platform that other high schools when evaluating musical options will come. They will not be going to Little Theatre when they make the same decision you did.

    You now have a teachable moment that extends beyond the walls of Newton North High School. We encourage you to use it.

    • ElliF says:

      Really great post, Pragmatic Mom! Thank you for everything you have done by creating a place where these issues can be discussed with honesty and integrity. You have done the community a great service, and I agree that NNHS should be engaging in this process, too.

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Thank you ElliF,
        I have emailed the consultant at MTI, Cindy Ripley, with this post. She should be aware of the historic inaccuracies and racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie as SHE IS THE ONE who helps high school directors overcome issues with this production including push back on racism and white slavery.

        I would love to have her on behalf of MTI weigh in, particularly now that they have The Dalton School version.

        Cindy Ripley’s Bio:

        “When she is not in NYC, she maintains a busy road schedule, crisscrossing the country as she conducts teacher intensive and student workshops, adjudicates regional and national theater and choral festivals, and represents iTheatrics and Music Theatre International at a myriad of state and national conferences.

        The success of the Broadway Jr. series led to a partnership with MacMillan/McGraw-Hill. Cindy became a contributing author, creating the musical theater curriculum for grades one through eight for the “Spotlight on Music” textbook. This text advocates the repositioning of the study of American musical theater from an extra curricular activity to that of core curriculum focus.
        She is a MTI Showspace show support consultant, giving advice to teachers on all aspects of production from costumes to fundraising for Broadway Jr. and MTI Kids shows, Consultant for national and state conferences including: MENC, TETA, TMEA, NYSSMA, NAESP, NMSA.

        Cindy’s achievements received national attention when she was selected as one of thirty-nine educators nationwide to be named to USA Today’s 2005 All-Star Teacher Team.”

        Her reply to push back on racism and white slavery issues to Charles Apple was:

        “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.”

        • Irene says:

          That was an excellent idea, Pragmatic Mom, to contact Cindy Ripley about this issue! She has the platform to further educate many, many people, including teachers and students. Your blog brought the issue to the attention of the local community, and hopefully Angry Asian Man’s post will make Asian-Americans across the country aware of this type of issue, but Cindy has the unique position of being able to go straight to school theater departments.

          She says in her response: “Anxious to see how it settles out.”

          I don’t know if anyone at NNHS will have updated her, but she should know how the show was received in Newton. I hope she reads all the related posts on this blog and all the comments as well.

          I am very interested in hearing her weigh in, as I don’t want to assume anything, but her response on the MTI forum does make it sound like she did not have a full grasp of the racism of this show. “[C]iting other shows” with controversial topics to “squelch” the concerns that were raised is no way to justify putting on a racist production. She admits that “[a] tremendous number of shows have significant historical references that we do not condone in any setting” – yet, by promoting the production of such a show, they ARE condoning it in an entertainment setting.

          It is good to see that she does agree that it is “[s]o important to discuss it with your kids.” So, I hope she reads all the related threads on this blog with an open mind, and I hope she takes the perspectives presented here and really uses them to shape her work at MTI.

          Thanks again to you, and to ElliF as well, for continuing this very important discussion.

          • Pragmatic Mom says:

            Hi Irene,
            Yes, I hope to hear from Cindy Ripley as well. I will also contact the Asian American Media/Theatre people. I have to find that. I think it’s in this thread somewhere and have them weigh in. I think it’s so important that this issue is not viewed as objections from a “single voice.”

  9. Pragmatic Mom says:

    Who is going tonight? Please come to discuss racism in NNHS’s Thoroughly Modern Millie tonight at 7pm in Little Theatre.

    Arissa Oh @arissaoh Mar 14
    ‘we did not anticipate that ppl wd be upset that we are staging a racist show; pls come and share yr concerns so we can dismiss those too’

    http://ilovenewton.com/nnhs-responds-concerns-modern-millie/

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