Newton North High School Racist Musical

NNHS’s Racist Slippery Slope

I would say that it’s more the political climate in which the Republican party makes it permissible to express racism and violence against others.


Did you see Human’s of New York’s Open Letter to Donald Trump?

An Open Letter to Donald Trump:

Mr. Trump,

I try my hardest not to be political. I’ve refused to interview several of your fellow candidates. I didn’t want to risk any personal goodwill by appearing to take sides in a contentious election. I thought: ‘Maybe the timing is not right.’ But I realize now that there is no correct time to oppose violence and prejudice. The time is always now. Because along with millions of Americans, I’ve come to realize that opposing you is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one.

I’ve watched you retweet racist images. I’ve watched you retweet racist lies. I’ve watched you take 48 hours to disavow white supremacy. I’ve watched you joyfully encourage violence, and promise to ‘pay the legal fees’ of those who commit violence on your behalf. I’ve watched you advocate the use of torture and the murder of terrorists’ families. I’ve watched you gleefully tell stories of executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood. I’ve watched you compare refugees to ‘snakes,’ and claim that ‘Islam hates us.’

I am a journalist, Mr. Trump. And over the last two years I have conducted extensive interviews with hundreds of Muslims, chosen at random, on the streets of Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan. I’ve also interviewed hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees across seven different countries. And I can confirm— the hateful one is you.

Those of us who have been paying attention will not allow you to rebrand yourself. You are not a ‘unifier.’ You are not ‘presidential.’ You are not a ‘victim’ of the very anger that you’ve joyfully enflamed for months. You are a man who has encouraged prejudice and violence in the pursuit of personal power. And though your words will no doubt change over the next few months, you will always remain who you are.

Brandon Stanton

You might have also seen how Northeastern Matthew Kafker, a Northwestern University freshman, was charged with institutional vandalism, hate crime in a church, and criminal damage to property after defacing the school’s Alice Millar Chapel. The Boston Globe

Along with slurs against African-Americans and gays, a swastika, and a male reproductive organ, Kafker and another freshman, Anthony Morales, spray-painted the word “Trump”…

But how does this connect to Newton North High School? I think it’s a slippery slope of lack of education around racism, along with tacit permission via musicals that sexist and racist musicals and the messages that they portray comply with behavior that students can express.

Newton North High School Sexist Musical

Once Upon a Mattress is Sexist?

Once Upon a Mattress does not deal with any racial stereotypes, but some of the plot points were incredibly sexist, especially in a show that had the chance to be so progressive. Most of my issues were with the Lady Larken and Sir Harry storyline, in which the two lovers get into a feud that only ends when Larken puts on something that “shows she’s a girl” and apologizes to Sir Harry, who never once takes responsibility for his part in the argument or mentions the fact that, during the several hours in which they were broken up, he took a French mistress who knew one word of English: Yes.

Even Winnifred, who is an incredibly modern, self sufficient young woman who actually spends an entire song showing off her ability to drink and lift weights, buckles under societal pressure in “Happily Ever After”, a song where she essentially concludes that she will never be happy if she doesn’t get married.

I don’t bring this up because I want to start another riot. I just think it’s interesting that, when I expressed my discomfort at these pieces of the storyline, my comments were met with slightly uncomfortable jokes and were ultimately cast aside because this show was written in 1959, a time when these depictions were socially and politically acceptable. From Denebola

What’s important here is to recognize the purpose of theater, which is to get us to talk about and question our world. If a play or a musical can get us to open up about race relations, the role of women in society, or the idea of gender being a fluid construct, then those are the shows we should be performing and watching, even if they don’t have the most up-to-date terminology and politically correct point of view.

I agree with this point but I think that the discussion should be part of the school’s curriculum rather than an ad hoc conversation among students.

Newton North High School Racist Musical

Thoroughly Modern Millie which is racist and similar to an incident in Metrowest Boston when a school performed Anything Goes twenty years ago. What’s interesting is that the school — 20 years ago! — reacted with more concessions than Newton North did, though it was still not enough.

As a concession to the students, however, a statement on the inside back cover of the program booklet for the musical acknowledged that some in the school community had found the play racist and offensive.

The statement also explained that the English and Social Studies departments had facilitated class discussions about Asian American stereotypes in order to understand the socio-historical context of the play.

Yet, when asked how thorough or systematic these discussions had been, Anita replied, “it did not happen. They were going to talk about it in English and History, and then they didn’t.” Students saw that only a couple of teachers actually tried, but had such limited knowledge of the issues, that the discussions seemed counter-productive.

Wendy recalled: One of our English teachers brought up the play and basically the whole class was arguing like why are these Asians so upset…. This other girl, she was Black, she understood, but the other people were basically like, ‘I don’t care, it’s just a play, it’s just for fun’…. I felt like the whole class was against the Asians, and I just felt hurt by it…. After class I just started crying, and then my English teacher came over to me and said, ‘I’m sorry you had to go through this’…. She tried to do some thing, you know. She said maybe we can discuss it after the play, but then she never went through with it.

Newton North’s disclaimer was buried in the middle of the playbill and there were no teacher led discussions. There were, however, racist and aggressive comments made either verbally or written which were never addressed by Newton North administration.

Newton North High School Sexist Musical

And, the musical right before Thoroughly Modern Millie — How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying —  was widely noted as sexist, set the stage for a racist play to follow it.

Now, in the Newton Schools, there is a progression of student aggression from Sexist to Racist to Anti-Semitic. I’m not surprised at all. I just hope this prompts our school district to add additional educational units around racism and religious tolerance. It’s clearly long overdue.

Music and political warfare have been used together in many different political contexts and cultures as a way to reach a targeted audience in order to deliver a specific political message.

bullying by race

  • Chinese-American middle school students in Boston reported frequently experiencing race-based verbal and physical harassment by non-Asian peers. Harassing comments typically focused on Asian languages or accents, school performance and physical appearance. Boys more frequently reported physical harassment. Girls reported witnessing physical aggression toward Chinese-American boys.11 From American Psychology Association
  • According to a According to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2010 report,1, 2 :
    • Fewer Asian-American students (18 percent) reported being bullied at school or cyberbullied than did white students (35 percent), African-American students (31 percent) or Latino students (28 percent). More Asian-American victims of bullying (11.1 percent) said that they were bullied because of their race than did white victims (2.8 percent), African-American victims (7.1 percent) or Latino victims (6.2 percent).
    • Like other racial minorities, more Asian-American students (11 percent) reported being frequently targeted with race-related hate words than was reported by White students (3 percent).

    Racial/ethnic minorities who break stereotypes are more likely to be bullied. Asian American and Latino student athletes were more likely to be bullied, whereas sport participation was an insulating factor for White and Black students. 5

    Among Asian American students, immigrant and 2nd generation students were more likely to be victimized than 3rd or later generation students. Data comes from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (a nation-wide sample of over 10,000 public high school students).6

  • According to survey data released in 2011 by the US Justice Department and Education Department, Asian Americans endure far more bullying in U.S. schools than any other ethnic group, and compared to other teens, Asian American teens are three times as likely to face bullying on the internet.A report released last year by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and The Sikh Coalition revealed that half of all Asian American students surveyed in New York City have been the target of bias-bullying and harassment, mirroring national statistics.And according to a report released earlier this month, more than half of Sikh school children are bullied. From Angry Asian Man

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

Thoroughly Modern Millie Talk Back Videos

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

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)

Arissa Oh ‏@arissaoh  1h

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.

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


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.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share
Leave A Comment

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Follow by Email