racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

MTI Advises How to Squelch Dissent for Thoroughly Modern Millie

racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

I’m getting concerns from parents…..ugh.

What exactly are their concerns or comments?

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.

Your technique of citing other shows is exactly what I was going to suggest.  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A tremendous number of shows have significant historical references that we do not condone in any setting, yet it  contributes to the plot point and story line sometimes with humor.


From MTI, the company that sells THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

MTI  offers via a forum to help high school directors put on the show. You use a form to ask a question and the community answers it. Cindy Ripley answers all the questions so I assume she works for MTI.

As you can see from the forum that the questions tend to be operational. Where do I buy the big laundry carts? Which logo do I use? But then the first question is How Do I Handle White Slavery Because Parents are Giving Me a Hard Time About It? Their advise is disturbing.

It disturbs me that MTI which sells Thoroughly Modern Millie is giving advice to high school directors on how to handle racism in the play. They are not encouraging an open dialogue instead they use words such as “squelch” and “over sensitivity” and are dismissive of complaints by Asian parents.

Read for yourself and tell me what you think.


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 LevyRebecca 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.


Charles Apple runs Apple Creative Theatre in Winchester, Virginia. Apple Creative Theater is a non-school, non-religious affiliated theater designed to provide youth musicals, plays and entertainment for the entire community. Thoroughly Modern Millie will run from 4/4/2014 to 4/12/2014.

To contact Charles Apple, here is his info:

Apple Creative Theater Rehearsal Hall

207 Flanagan Drive, Winchester, VA 22602

Phone Number: (540) 907-4707


Cindy Ripley’s Biography

Cindy Ripley, a nationally recognized educational consultant, is known for her hands-on and high-energy approach to make musical theater come alive for teachers and students alike.  Seemingly everywhere, Cindy wears a multitude of hats. She can be found advising a teacher in Thailand about costume ideas for “Guys and Dolls Jr.” on MTI Showspace, piloting and writing new educational materials with kids as the Master Teacher of iTheatrics in NYC, presenting teacher intensive workshops around the country, developing the “Make A Musical” training for underserved schools in the NBC SMASH initiative as well as the president’s commission on the arts, or consulting with principals and teachers at National Education Conferences about unifying their communities using musical theater as the vehicle.

Cindy combines 33 years of experience as a music educator in the classroom and on the stage with boundless enthusiasm and unparalleled expertise. She understands all aspects of successful team building: kids of all ages, the first year teacher to the veteran director, parents, community organizations and administrators. Equally at home coaching the 10-year-old lead in “Cinderella” as presenting at the Kennedy Center, Cindy’s reputation is singular in scope and dimension.

Cindy fervently believes that all individuals are inherently creative. Her passion for excellence is her trademark as she celebrates the spirit within all of us.

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.

She can be reached at 164 Union Street, Hamburg, NY 14075



Let’s summarize the historical references:

1) White Slavery

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.

From The Marginalized

2) Bun Foo and Ching Ho trying immigrate their mother from Hong Kong versus The Chinese Exclusion Act

For all practical purposes, the Chinese 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.

“This is a play that — I have no other way to say it —  at its heart, in its DNA is deeply, deeply racist. Ignorant. There are stereotypes. You have the names Ching Ho, Bun Foo. Those aren’t actual Chinese names. What you have is a sort of a White American concept of what Chinese and Asians are meant to be and it’s there, laid out, for entertainment value.” Charlene Beh, English Teacher at Newton North High School and Co-Advisor to Thoroughly Modern Millie

3) Miss Dorothy Brown Choosing Ching Ho vs. The Cable Act

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.

And why are Ching Ho and Bun Fo not arrested along with Mrs. Meers? They are accessories to kidnapping or worse, actually, having actually committed multiple kidnapping crimes. Is it historically accurate that a New York City socialite would marry a Chinese National who has committed multiple crimes?

Is it  historically accurate that Chinese Nationals who lived in the United States would commit crimes to solve their immigration issues?

4) Mrs. Meers Pretending to be Chinese in Order to Escape Arrest

In the 1920s, 2002 or 2014, let’s be clear that white people do not attempt to look and act Asian as part of a disguise by adopting ethnic dress and speaking in a thick accent as if English is their second language.

Actual Mugshots of 1920s Criminals. None are Disguised as Asian

I have searched for 1920s mugshots to see if, in fact, it is historically accurate that criminals at the time disguised themselves as Asian to evade arrest.  You might want to note that even Asian criminals from the time adopted Western dress.

Asian criminals from 1920s

Asian criminals mugshots from 1920s

Here’s some of female criminals from the 1920s. Again, no one appears to be caught while dressed as a Dragon Lady.

female criminals from 1920 mugshots

1920s mugshots

group shot of criminals from 1920s

If someone can find me a mugshot from the 1920s of a white person disguised as Asian in a mugshot, please send it to me and I will post it.


Let’s also talk about speaking English with an accent and acknowledge that when English is spoken with a European accent such as British or Scandinavian, it’s considered charming and the person intelligent. When English is spoken with an Asian accent, it is “funny” and the speaker is thought to be stupid.

I cite: Speakers With a Foreign Accent Are Perceived as Less Credible

Accent Stereotyping and Prejudice

Heaven is where the police are British, the cooks are French, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lover’s Swiss, the police German, and it is all organized by the Italians.

Stereotypes refer to specific characteristics, traits, and roles that a group and its members are believed to possess. Stereotypes can be both positive and negative, although negative are more common. The joke above illustrates both. Stereotypes also influence people process and retrieve information. For example, when we meet a man from France, we may make assumptions that he is a great cook, but not a good mechanic, simply because he is from France. He indeed might be a good cook and a bad mechanic, but we do not know that, he could be a terrible cook and a great mechanic, good or bad at both, or simply average.

Stereotypes sometimes result in prejudice, which means having negative attitudes toward a group and its members, which may be based on stereotypic beliefs about the group. Throughout history, various groups have experienced prejudice, and unfortunately, prejudice is still very much part of our lives. Non-native speakers often have to deal with both negative stereotypes and prejudice resulting from speaking with an accent. Decades of research have shown that accents are associated with a range of negative stereotypes and attitudes. On average, native speakers find non-native speakers less intelligent, less competent, less educated, having poor English skills, and unpleasant to listen to. Stereotypical portrayals of accents are also common in the media (see Accents in the Media). People with stronger accents are judged even harsher and native speakers who have trouble understanding accented speech may experience negative feelings toward non-native speakers for refusing to learn to speak the language “properly.” An accent also marks the speaker as an immigrant and immigrants as a group have frequently experienced prejudice from native speakers. From Human Accents

Is it historically accurate that Mrs. Meers adopt a Chinese accent in the 1920s when she attempts to evade the police. No.

Does portraying Mrs. Meers as Chinese break down dangerous stereotypes and start important conversations about racism? No. She is not even portrayed in a stereotype of the four presented: Geisha, Overtly Sexualized Dragon Lady, Submissive or Kung-Foo Warrior.

Here’s the description for Mrs. Meers in the pack from Theatre Ink:


A former actress turned human trafficker pretending to be a kindly Chinese woman. She oversees the Hotel Priscilla where
she secretly sells her tenants.

Strong Singer/ Dancer/ Comedian/Female, 45-55 yrs old (Alto – E3 to Bb4)


Was this for humor? Is a thick Chinese accent funny in and of itself? You tell me.

Comic Pastiche

“The secret mechanism of a pastiche is the fact that a style is not just a unique set of linguistic operations: a style is not just a prose style. A style is also a quality of vision. It is also its subject matter. A pastiche transfers the prose style to a new content (while parody transfers the prose style to an inadmissible and scandalous content): it is therefore a way of testing out the limits of a style.”

(Adam Thirlwell, The Delighted States. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

p.s. You might note that never once does MTI state that Thoroughly Modern Millie is for “busting offensive Anti-Asian stereotypes”.

p.p.s. The Boston Globe plans to run a piece on the Newton North High School production of Thoroughly Modern Millie this Tuesday. The reporter attended Saturday night’s performance. I will add the link.


Related Links:

Thoroughly Modern Millie is Thoroughly Racist

My Take on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Talk Back: Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS

NNHS Responds to Concerns About 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

Thoroughly Modern Millie Talk Back Videos


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

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.

The Notebook: Racism isn’t entertainment: Why “Thoroughly Modern Millie” didn’t belong on CAPA’s stage

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)

3 white ppl on @GreaterBoston unhelpfully discuss HS prodns of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” 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.


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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6 Responses to “MTI Advises How to Squelch Dissent for Thoroughly Modern Millie”
  1. Busy Body says:

    Would you please stop hijacking the NNHS Alumni Facebook page. It’s not the proper forum for this issue.

    • Pragmatic Mom says:

      Hi Busy Body,
      Are you speaking for yourself or on behalf of all NNHS Alumni? Thank you for clarifying. And would you like to discuss this in person or do you prefer to stay anonymous? Because I would be happy to meet with you face to face. Also, I respectfully disagree that this topic is inappropriate for the Facebook page. I have had interesting comments from NNHS alumni. I will have some of them contact you directly.

      • Busy Body says:

        Are you a NNHS Alumni?

        • Pragmatic Mom says:

          Hi Busy Body,
          No I am not but I have been posting on this Facebook page for two years without incident. Perhaps you would prefer for me to ask my NNHS alumni friends to post on Thoroughly Modern Millie on my behalf? I know many and I am quite sure I can find an official NNHS alumni to do so.

          Would you like to meet to discuss this further?

    • ElliF says:

      Hey Busy Body. EVERY forum is the right place to work against racism. I would think that NNHS Alumni would want to make this a prominent issue on their Facebook page. Your voices could make a difference regarding something that counts.

      Why not join in discussing the important issue at hand instead of harassing Pragmatic Mom…

      • Pragmatic Mom says:

        Thank you ElliF,
        It seems that cyberbullying is quite prevalent in my community. And it’s always done under the veil of anonymity. I have emailed Busy Body to discuss this face to face but this person hasn’t responded. Why are you not willing to say this to my face?

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