Do You Shield Your Kids From Negative Portrayals of Asians?

eyes covered

Do you cover your kids' eyes?

Have you heard about the controversy surrounding the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservatory’s planned screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s? What’s wrong with Audrey Hepburn in a LBD and pearls, you ask? Well, remember her neighbor Mr. Yonioshi, with his buck-teeth and all-wrong accent, played by Mickey Rooney in yellowface? New York filmmaker Ursula Liang is calling for a boycott of the movie, along with all the SyFy Movies with a View series.

Why any publicly funded organization in a city where 1-in-8 residents are Asian-American or any channel with a huge Asian-American viewership would choose to show a film with a racist caricature like this is beyond me. It’s not funny; It’s not classic; It’s not beloved to us. By screening this film, the organizers are sanctioning the racism it contains, and subjecting new audiences (including children and Asian-Americans) to a minstrel show of racist ideology.


I can understand. I don’t want my kids to think this is how society sees them. When I watched Jeff Chiba Stearns’ One Big Hapa Family with my 8-year old, he had lots of questions about the discrimination faced by the older Japanese Canadians during World War II. I had to explain to him that some people thought those things about Japanese (and other Asians) during World War II, but that those things were wrong, as was the internment of Japanese on the West Coast.

That’s why I love what Jeff Yang writes in his piece Breakfast at Tiffany’s protest is misguided: Let’s deal openly with the film’s Asian stereotypes.

We can’t and shouldn’t try to bleach these stains from the canon; we can’t and shouldn’t avoid engaging with the bad and ugly of our American legacy, as well as the good. To flee from them or hide them is to deny our racist past. And that misses what ought to be a teachable moment.

Rather than censoring the film, organizers should press for the Conservatory to use its programming resources to provide a platform for Asian Americans to comment on it, critique it and satirize it.

I live on the opposite coast from Brooklyn, so seeing the movie isn’t a question for my family. But it does bring up the bigger question of how to deal with these images when (not if) your kids see them.

If you live in New York, are you going to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Have your kids seen racist depiction of Asians in the media? And how did you handle it?

Speaking of depictions of Asians in film, what do you think of Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Wayne Wang’s new movie based on the novel by Lisa See? Check out my review on BlogHer and tell me what you think.



  1. says

    My children are not Asian, but they are biracially mixed–black and white. Just as with the racist caricature of an Asian character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, there are many racist caricatures of African-Americans in film history too. I completely agree with Jeff Yang’s ideas. We cannot erase history. We should confront it, discuss it, and learn from it. I would rather my children know that such ugliness existed and was overcome than to have them think that life is full of pleasantries. We all need to be aware of the past so that we can learn from it. If we pretend it didn’t exist, how will our children know what to do when they see it in the present?

  2. hopepa says

    the argument holds as much water as saying let’s watch nazi films to find out how racist the nazi’s really were. not to mention that public showings of the film means that the creators of the film or their heirs will benefit financially from royalty rights.

    much better to show the kids positive role models first (not many positive hollywood asian portrayals, but dragon the bruce lee story ain’t half bad though may be too scary for little keikis).

    then when they see negative portrayals, it’ll be that much more apparent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *