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Miss Saigon and racism

South Florida
Leading Actor
joined:5/2/08
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 11:41am
I've been reading about how many people see the show as racist since last night when a relative mentioned it to me. One especially lengthy essay from an Asian writer. I've never seen the show but have enjoyed the music in it for years. How do some of you feel, is it strong one way or the other?
Stephanatic
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Patash
Broadway Legend
joined:5/27/08
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 11:45am
Seriously? There are racist characters within the play, just like there are racists within life. Is that what you mean? If any given character within any play is less than admirable, does that mean that the play is demeaning him because of his race? I think people need to get a grip.
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JoeKv99
Broadway Legend
joined:12/27/04
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 11:45am
Every show's a little bit racist.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
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ErikJ972
Broadway Legend
joined:5/26/03
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 11:51am
I remember the controversy being more about the casting than the content of the show. It might be helpful if you could link the essay you're talking about it.
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LizzieCurry
Broadway Legend
joined:3/7/05
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 11:56am
I may be a special case since I am Asian American and got into theatre because of Miss Saigon. (When I say "into," I don't mean I work in it -- it just launched my massive interest in theatre.) It was also the first Equity show I ever saw, and I've seen three productions of it. I own the OLC, CSR and German cast recordings.

But I have trouble listening to it now.

It's based on an opera that launched and reinforced a dangerous stereotype (that of the subservient Asian woman who ends up the tossed-aside lover once a "real" wife enters the picture), the Vietnamese in the show is pretty much gibberish, and there isn't one Asian person on its creative team. It'd also be nice -- in a world where Asian American women are still highly fetishized and sexualized -- to not have yet another piece of media available for consumption which depicts Asian women as sex workers.

The use of racial slurs within the show actually doesn't bother me so much (it's probably pretty authentic), but the show gives me slight heebie-jeebies now. I kind of cringed when I heard the UK production was headed to Broadway. Along with the King and I. Can't there be a new show based in Asia (or with Asian American characters) with an Asian American creative team? Where's Allegiance?

One especially lengthy essay from an Asian writer.

Could you link to this? I'd be interested in reading it.

"Don't patronize me, alright?" - BroadwayStar4
Updated On: 7/17/14 at 11:56 AM
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LizzieCurry
Broadway Legend
joined:3/7/05
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 12:24pm
Also, just to cut into this early (it's about gender, but applicable):
http://chescaleigh.tumblr.com/post/92056542567/towards-the-whole-pronouns-hurt-peoples-feelings

The key to the torture is being restrained. You cannot move. You must feel each drop. You have lost all control over stopping these drops of water from splashing on your forehead.

It still doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But person after person, time and time again—would completely unravel psychologically. They all had a breaking point where each drop turned into a horror. Building and building until all sense of sanity was completely lost.

"It was just a joke, quite being so sensitive."

"They used the wrong pronoun, big deal."

"So your parents don’t understand, it could be worse."

Day after day. Drop after drop. It builds up. A single instance on its own is no big deal. A few drops, not a problem. But when you are restrained, when you cannot escape the drops, when it is unending—these drops can be agony.

People aren’t sensitive because they can’t take a joke. Because they can’t take being misgendered one time. Because they lack a thick skin.

People are sensitive because the drops are unending and they have no escape from them.

You are only seeing the tiny, harmless, single drop hitting these so-called “sensitive” people. You are failing to see the thousands of drops endured before that. You are failing to see the restraints that make them inescapable.
"Don't patronize me, alright?" - BroadwayStar4
Queen of the Night
Featured Actor
joined:6/12/07
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 01:02pm
LizzieCurry, I both agree and disagree with you. I think part of the problem we have today with Miss Saigon and Madama Butterfly (and a lot of similar works set in the past) is that we are looking at them from our modern perspective. David Belasco's play on which the Puccini opera is based was written in 1900 and it in turn was based on stories that were written in the late 1800's. if you go back and look at old Japanese films, especially ones that depict pre-WW II Japan and especially the samurai class, you will see that the women were shown as subservient to men. This was normal for that place and time. Cio-Cio-San is a poor geisha and daughter of a samurai who had committed seppuku. Her behavior and treatment by men (both Japanese and American) is completely understandable in the setting of that time period. White, Christian colonial Europeans (and Americans) did look at Asians much the same as Americans used to regard Africans, as people who were uncivilized, not "saved" by Christianity and beneath them in status. In the historical context of both early 1900's Japan and 1960's Vietnam, many of attitudes displayed towards Asians were real despite being wrong and distasteful to us today. It just shows how far we have come and why this opera and this musical really need the staging to be kept in their specific time periods and locations.

As far as "Miss Saigon" is concerned, Kim is actually portrayed as a very strong woman. She goes through a lot during the show (in fact, I think she deals with a lot more adversity than Cio-Cio-San) and even though she does die, she remains a pillar of courage and love. If anything, she breaks the stereotype of the weak and helpless Asian woman. She tries to be equal to the men and is willing to do whatever she has to in order to better her life for herself and her child. She is as much a victim of her own countrymen and culture as she is of the Americans.. In truth, one of the most racist and offensive characters in the show is an Asian himself--the Engineer. He is all about putting down his own people, selling girls (who he regards as inferior and "good for only one thing"), making himself rich and kissing foreigner's asses to do it. Thuy, who had been drinking Ho Chi Min's koolaid, is pretty disparaging of his own people (who dont buy into the government's program) as well. Chris doesn't look down on Kim. he doesn't make her his "flavor of the month" and just ditch her. He believes himself married to her and wants to take her home to the US. Miss Saigon portrays much of life in that part of the world, during that time period, pretty accurately (according to news film and eyewitness accounts). It shows the good and bad, how people can hurt each other and how they try to do good and rise above their difficult circumstances.
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Wildcard
Broadway Legend
joined:6/21/06
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 01:18pm
Is it because the Asians are portrayed as sex workers? That they saw going to the US as salvation? As derogatory as these "stereotypes" may seem, that was how things were for many people during the time and place the show is set. And this is the story the authors chose to tell. Not every Asian story is like this but that doesn't mean events like these didn't happen. It's unfortunate that these types of stories exist in the first place but they did. It doesn't make it racist.
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JoeKv99
Broadway Legend
joined:12/27/04
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 01:21pm
Funny, no one complains that the GIs are all portrayed as horny pigs.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
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Mister Matt
Broadway Legend
joined:5/17/03
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 01:48pm
It'd also be nice -- in a world where Asian American women are still highly fetishized and sexualized -- to not have yet another piece of media available for consumption which depicts Asian women as sex workers.

Perhaps I'm being naive, but I've never noticed that being unique to Asian American women, but to women of all nationalities and ethnicity.

I kind of cringed when I heard the UK production was headed to Broadway. Along with the King and I. Can't there be a new show based in Asia (or with Asian American characters) with an Asian American creative team? Where's Allegiance?

I'm sure new shows like that can be created, but perhaps your frustrated should be directed towards the Asian Americans urging them to create them? I remember there was a musical called Heading East by Leon Ko. And a while back, there was a musical about Bruce Lee (forget what it was called) that I think got re-developed into the play Kung-Fu. And though he's not Asian, Wildhorn wrote Tears of Heaven (book by Phoebe Hwang) for a production in Korea and is currently presenting in concert music from Mitsuko (book and direction by Shuichiro Koike) in Europe and Asia.
"What can you expect from a bunch of seitan worshippers?" - Reginald Tresilian
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LizzieCurry
Broadway Legend
joined:3/7/05
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 01:55pm
Perhaps I'm being naive, but I've never noticed that being unique to Asian American women, but to women of all nationalities and ethnicity.

Do a google image search for "Asian woman." Then do one for other ethnicities + woman.

And this is the story the authors chose to tell.

And it gets performed again and again.

I should also mention, it's really unfortunate how many women continue to play Kim 5, 10, 15 years after they already did the first time. Are other roles not available to them? (It seems to be at a way higher rate than, say, someone who plays Che or Coalhouse.)
"Don't patronize me, alright?" - BroadwayStar4
Updated On: 7/17/14 at 01:55 PM
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Patash
Broadway Legend
joined:5/27/08
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 01:59pm
Great point, Lizzie, and I agree with you. Women being subservient is far from unique to Asian stories or to Miss Saigon.

Meanwhile, how can any play ever be done which is set in another time period, since obviously the mores of that time period will be different from those of today. And isn't that kind of the point -- that we're seeing things the way "they used to be"?
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James885
Broadway Legend
joined:5/2/05
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 02:00pm
I think the root of many the issues people have with Miss Saigon (and I say this as both a fan of the show, and also as someone who isn't blind to its faults, hence my avatar) is that the piece is very much written from a western perspective and portrays Vietnamese customs and culture through a western lens.

A few examples: Kim's assumption that her son will have a better life in America with Chris than in Bangkok with her, the portrayal of both lead Vietnamese men - the Engineer and Thuy - as greasy and morally flawed, in contrast to the stronger, morally superior characters of Chris and John, and the perpetuation of a stereotype we've seen so many times: the Asian - or any ethnicity - person/people needing to be rescued or saved by a white man (and I think that this reason, more than any other, will rear its head if Miss Saigon is ever made into a film)

I don't think the show intentionally attempts to glorify america or american culture - JoeKv99 made an excellent point about how the GIs are portrayed - but I can see how those of Asian descent would find the show problematic.





"You drank a charm to kill John Proctor's wife! You drank a charm to kill Goody Proctor!" - Betty Parris to Abigail Williams in Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Updated On: 7/17/14 at 02:00 PM
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LizzieCurry
Broadway Legend
joined:3/7/05
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 02:07pm
James makes a great point too. There are no Asian heroes in this story. The characters the Western audiences are most likely to identify with are the ones who are the most blind to what's going on around them.

Also, Chris' regret in the hotel room ("Christ, I'm an American / how could I fail to do good") is too little, too late. Ellen and Chris come in as the white saviors of Tam, but they don't really have that revelation. The audience might, but it's not outlined clearly enough. Then the only way Kim gets her wish is to die? What BS is that?

In the end, no one wins. Hardly anyone learns anything. Tam probably goes back to 1975 Atlanta as a mixed-race, out-of-wedlock child who just lost his mother. The Engineer doesn't get to America, but even if he did, the American dream is probably not what he ever imagined. John works for a NGO helping Amerasian kids and just watched the mother of one die. Ellen is the third wheel (in more ways than one).

"Don't patronize me, alright?" - BroadwayStar4
Updated On: 7/17/14 at 02:07 PM
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Mister Matt
Broadway Legend
joined:5/17/03
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 03:06pm
There are no Asian heroes in this story.

I thought Kim's actions throughout were the most heroic of anyone in the story.

In the end, no one wins.

The story is a tragedy. Like many others about all kinds of people.

Also, Chris' regret in the hotel room ("Christ, I'm an American / how could I fail to do good") is too little, too late.

Actually, we learn earlier that he has been haunted with regret for years. The show first hints at his troubles before Ellen's entrance in I Still Believe.

Tam probably goes back to 1975 Atlanta as a mixed-race, out-of-wedlock child who just lost his mother. The Engineer doesn't get to America, but even if he did, the American dream is probably not what he ever imagined. John works for a NGO helping Amerasian kids and just watched the mother of one die. Ellen is the third wheel (in more ways than one).

That's a lot of presumption outside the framework of the story. It really sounds more like the problems you have with Miss Saigon is that it is a story that simply should never have been told.

Ellen and Chris come in as the white saviors of Tam, but they don't really have that revelation.

Except it doesn't actually play out that way. It's actually underscored with a lot of PTSD, stress, anxiety, tension and reluctance.

I don't think the show intentionally attempts to glorify america or american culture

I don't think so, either. The biggest production number is a laundry list of American stereotypes. Chris is portrayed as loving, but not really a hero. John is American and fights for a cause. He probably comes closest to be the "American Hero" (and depending on the production, he's either white or black), so I guess there's a case to be made for being offended that it was an American that came the closest in rescuing Kim rather than a post-war Vietnamese citizen getting the job done. But as Wildcard mentioned, the creators were adapting Madama Butterfly to a more modern era, chose the Vietnam War, and went from there. It sounds like you simply did not like their choice in source material or the setting of its adaptation. Which is fine, but doesn't really support a case for the issues within the story, but rather, the entirety of the story and its existence.
"What can you expect from a bunch of seitan worshippers?" - Reginald Tresilian
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LizzieCurry
Broadway Legend
joined:3/7/05
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 03:17pm
To be fair, yes, a lot of my problems with Miss Saigon are actually outside the story, as I previously mentioned.

And I want an Asian hero who doesn't have to die to be considered one.

Did you do that google image search?
"Don't patronize me, alright?" - BroadwayStar4
South Florida
Leading Actor
joined:5/2/08
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 03:21pm
As a US citizen, who while young lived through these times, it never entered my mind that this was racist. America goes to Vietnam, arrogant. Yes their are Vietnamese hookers that guys can fall in love with. The people who are angry about this seem to feel Americans, white people will assume Asian women are whores and Asian men are assholes, not true. The feeling I took away from the music, having never seen the show, was the shame of our arrogance , best portrayed by Chris, not a hero but a bigamist.
Stephanatic
South Florida
Leading Actor
joined:5/2/08
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LizzieCurry
Broadway Legend
joined:3/7/05
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 03:33pm
Ah yes, the David Mura piece! Thanks.

And I'd just suggest people scroll down to the comment on that blog post by "Kenny V."
"Don't patronize me, alright?" - BroadwayStar4
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haterobics
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/14
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 03:38pm
"Did you do that google image search?"

Not sure what you expect us to see, but "asian woman" looks far better than "black woman" with far less underwear and nudity?!
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Mister Matt
Broadway Legend
joined:5/17/03
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 03:47pm
South Florida - Holy cow, that article really spins out of control almost from the very beginning. I think this guy has more of an idea of the outline of the show than knowledge of the actual story as written, which seems to take place in a setting he would rather simply not acknowledge entirely. He makes LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of assumptions on the thoughts of the creators, their intentions, and the perception of any non-Asian (or any Asian, for that matter) who views the show. He also says a lot of BS. I gave up around the part he started telling me precisely how I must have reacted regarding Kim's suicide and my thought process that triggered my emotion.

But I guess this is akin to gay men being outraged by Brokeback Mountain. I didn't really agree with them, either.
"What can you expect from a bunch of seitan worshippers?" - Reginald Tresilian
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Sutton Ross
Broadway Legend
joined:7/20/13
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 03:56pm
Miss Saigon and racism

Poster by Ricardo Levins Morales

Dilettante
sparepart973
Featured Actor
joined:4/7/12
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 04:01pm
Interesting that the people who do not think that there's anything racist about the show are not racial minorities.
South Florida
Leading Actor
joined:5/2/08
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 04:07pm
I'm not a smart guy but my first inclination is always toward beauty, and if that show had one overriding theme it seemed anti-Vietnam.
Stephanatic
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Phantom of London
Broadway Legend
joined:3/26/08
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 04:09pm
I love Miss Saigon, but it is racist.

Shouldn't Chris in reality be black? As the majority of privates that served in Vietnam and conscripted were black, white Americans had the money to buy themselves out of conscription.

But in reality Chris cannot be black as the audience reaction to a black Chris will be different.
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South Florida
Leading Actor
joined:5/2/08
Miss Saigon and racism
Posted: 7/17/14 at 04:13pm
Wow, Chris could so be black, it wouldn't bother this part of white America.
Stephanatic

 
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