In this day and age, where this issue is always highlighted on the global wide web, you would think huge theatre institutions are a lot more aware of the issue of “yellow face” etc. We guess not.
Author and Inclusive Leadership Strategist Cat-Thao Nguyen recently wrote an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald about a performance she and her Chinese Canadian husband went to watch at the Joan Sutherland Theatre. The performance was Opera Australia’s performance of Puccini’s Turandot. When the performance started, it hit her that three white actors were dressed in exaggerated Asian makeup and named “Ping, Pang and Pong”.
Puccini’s Turandot is set in ancient China and in a nutshell represented Chinese people and Chinese royalty as barbaric and uncivilised people, and as Nguyen stated in her piece Puccini created this racist “Fu-Manchu” style theatre production without ever stepping foot into China.
In 2019, a comedian withdrew her show, Aisha the Aussie Geisha, from the Melbourne Festival. It was a performance with a white actor dressed up in “yellow face” to be a geisha – so yes that got a a lot of flak and complaints. You wonder why Australia still feels “Yellow face” is okay, when it has been made clear time and time again that it is racist. In addition, these theatrical performances show Asians in a bad light and imposes negative and old stereotypes.
Here are a few things Nguyen said in her piece (via SMH):
As I sat in the theatre, the horrible caricatures kept coming like a tidal assault. Ping, Pong and Pang pranced around the stage with their Fu Manchu-style moustaches and fake long ponytails flicking across their costumes. I felt utterly sick. I clutched my husband and clamped my hand over my mouth. As the scenes unfolded, I felt a violent wilting of dignity for myself and my Chinese husband.
She said in her piece, her and her husband left after the First Act and that the majority of the audience was white…. seriously no surprises there….
Images via Opera Australia
To read the original opinion piece, please click on: Ping, Pong, Pang: we went to enjoy the opera but found it perpetuating racism