UK theater in yel­low­face cast­ing row

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By BO LE­UNG

bole­ung@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk. com

Bri­tish- Chi­nese and East Asian ac­tors, in­clud­ing Harry Potter ac­tress Katie Le­ung, along with other mem­bers of the theater com­mu­nity, have con­demned a Lon­don venue for set­ting a play in China with Chi­nese char­ac­ters but an ap­par­ently all-white cast.

The Print Room in Not­ting Hill is show­ing In the Depths of Dead Love by Howard Barker this month, a play set in an­cient China that is about Chi­nese peo­ple and that fea­tures char­ac­ters with Chi­nese names, such as Mrs Hu and Chin.

The pro­duc­tion does not seem to fea­ture a sin­gle ac­tor of Chi­nese or East- Asian de­scent.

“The al­lu­sions are in­tended to sig­nify ‘not here, not now, not in any ac­tual real ‘where and the pro­duc­tion, set, cos­tumes and di­a­logue fol­low this cue of ‘no place’,” the com­pany said in a me­dia state­ment.

But David Tse, cre­ative di­rec­tor of Lon­don-based Bri­tish East Asian per­for­mance com­pany Chi­nese Arts Space told China Daily: “This is a clear ex­am­ple of in­sti­tu­tional racism, the Print Room prob­a­bly didn’t even think about cast­ing ac­tors of East Asian ori­gin and it didn’t oc­cur to them how of en­sive the play would be. If black­face is un­ac­cept­able then why should yel­low­face cast­ing be any dif­fer­ent?”

Yel­low­face cast­ing is the deroga­tory term used to de­scribe Cau­casian ac­tors as­sum­ing Chi­nese or Asian roles.

Bri­tish-born Chi­nese ac­tor KC Li from Manch­ester said op­por­tu­ni­ties for Bri­tishChi­nese and East Asians are al­ready scarce. “Yel­low­face and white­wash­ing is wrong but peo­ple tend to turn a blind eye to it,” Li said. “Un­til some­one takes a stand and fights our corner higher up in the in­dus­try, noth­ing is go­ing to change,” Li said.

The 35-year-old male ac­tor added: “The Print Room is in Lon­don where it is full of Bri­tish East Asian per­for­mance com­pa­nies, such as Chi­nese Arts Space and Yel­low Earth, so there is no ex­cuse to not use ac­tors of Chi­nese or East Asian de­scent.”

A protest against the Print Room has been planned for Jan 19. It is be­ing or­ga­nized by di­rec­tor An­drew Keates, who said East-Asian per­form­ers were “woe­fully un­der­rep­re­sented in our in­dus­try”, adding that the use of Cau­casian ac­tors was “un­ac­cept­able and racist”.

The West Lon­don theater apol­o­gized in the state­ment for any offence caused and claimed In the Depths of Dead Love is “a very English play”.

It added that the play is not a Chi­nese play and that the char­ac­ters are not Chi­nese.

“The pro­duc­tion ref­er­ences a set­ting in an­cient China and the char­ac­ters’ names are Chi­nese. These are lit­er­ary al­lu­sions in Howard Barker’s fable and never in­tended to be taken lit­er­ally.”

But crit­ics were unim­pressed with the venue’s ex­pla­na­tion say­ing the “the­atre showed that it does not com­pre­hend what yel­low­face and racial era­sure mean and have made no ef­fort to show any em­pa­thy to the com­mu­nity they have af­fronted”.

“If the play is myth­i­cal and not real, then why not set it in a fic­ti­tious land based in Eng­land?” Tse said. “The the­atre’s non­sense ex­cuse re­flects very badly on the pro­duc­tion.”


Katie Le­ung plays a role in Harry Potter movies.

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