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.