It is at this time of the year many people reflect on the events of the previous year, whilst also looking towards to the future.
As a female, as a British East Asian what does 2017 hold in store? Well, for one thing, a new job that was totally unexpected, but most very welcome. I’m now in rehearsals at The RSC for Snow In Midsummer. What a joy this is and I realise I am so incredibly lucky to be included in this company which is comprised of all British East Asian actors!
But with everything that is going on across the globe and the shift in, not just national, but international politics. Where do I stand? Where do I place myself in a new Britain that is now seemingly blindly shuffling its way towards, well towards what, we don’t quite know yet, do we? America a…
It is at this time, most people reflect on the events of the year, whilst also looking towards to the future.
As a female, as a British East Asian what does 2017 hold in store? With everything that has gone on recently across the globe and the shift in not just national and international politics. Where do I stand? Where do I place myself in a new Britain that is now seemingly blindly shuffling its way towards – towards what we don’t quite know do we? America a country that I have always loved, will this country now allow me to enter it freely? Central Europe is in the grip of its own doubt, grappling with the ideal, but having to face some of the grim realities that free unfettered movement can enable.
And Britain, “…this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
Richard II, Act 2 (Shakespeare)
Has shown itself to be less than a paradise .and not as blessed a refuge as perhaps was once thought. Brexit has scratched the country’s surface and our collective mindset and what we have uncovered is that the dark, unsavoury and toxic ideals of the extreme right have never really left us. Britain is not alone in this “discovery.” I feel fearful. Not of being dragged from my bed in the dead of night but I am fearful that the spread of this below the line extreme right consciousness will inveigle itself once more into our institutions and national structures. I hope that I am just being paranoid and overly anxious.
I am not a politician or an academic. I’m an actor, a writer, filmmaker and when needs be, a bit mouthy about issues that I feel passionate about. As a person of colour, as a disenfranchised culturally dislocated and isolated person I am finding it more and more difficult to see how I fit into Britain. The social and cultural progressions that have been made since the late 50s early 60s when I first landed in this country as Hong Kong Chinese foundling, have been truly remarkable. The diversity and variety that can be seen, heard and experienced in most major cities and towns across the land is the jewel in Britain’s crown. So why do I still feel excluded from British society?
Quite simply because I seldom see myself represented in my own culture – British culture.
And as a professional artist, it is rare that I even get the chance to be considered to represent my own ethnicity, let alone see the Britain that I grew up in, recreated on TV, film or in the theatre. In April 2013, I did a presentation on the unrealistic artistic mirrors that I was faced with in the media as I grew up during the 60s. It was part of IN CONVERSATION – A Snapshot of Chinese Cinema Today.
More Light Arcola Theatre 2009 Whilst there have been great strides forwards for British East Asians (though to be fair we lag far behind colleagues from other British minority ethnic groups). We still have not been able to break through the entrenched, almost subliminally embedded Victorian perspective of what an East Asian should be. In spite of several high-profile production since 2013 that have had a majority or completely all British East Asians in the cast. On the small and big screens in the UK, British East Asians are hardly to be seen at all. Now when I say British East Asian, what I mean is roles and story lines that don’t cast East Asians as the outsiders, the immigrants, speaking English with a heavy accent. Roles that see East Asians as British. The girls next door, the cabbie, the Doctor or the local shop owner. We are far from being there. The casting controversy that The Print Room, a fringe theatre in West London find itself in, is testament to that. We will see on stage, in 2017, a production being done in Yellowface. So for those that may have stumbled across this blog and be wondering what on earth I’m on about. Why the hell am I complaining about not being included, I should be grateful that I live where I do – yes I am lucky that I live where I do. But that’s part of the “problem” isn’t. Here we are in the 21st Century Britain a group of British citizens has been edited out of British society and culture. To the point that we are not even able to participate in the re-telling of our own story (fictional or factual). We are neither British nor in some cases East Asian. Relegated to cultural servitude. As coat hangers upon which others, many of whom see themselves as the innovators of art; and are by and large the dominant group in society. They dangle and exhibit their artistry, from our history and cultural lineage, exploiting us, but in the same breath deny us access and any hope of participating in our own culture.
Whether it is ridiculous fancy dress costumes,
or stereotypical TV/Film roles being portrayed by white actors
Janette Tough as Japanese fashion designer Huki Mukin in the Ab Fab movie
Take a moment and think. Would you be happy constantly being depicted, in the media and on stage as
No matter what the drama Add to this the representation of these White British stereotypes are only portrayed by Black or Asian actors never, or seldom, a white actor, wouldn’t you begin to question your place in British society? Never seeing an East Asian as a protagonist in any drama. Even when they do appear they are portrayed as a white person. White people stripped down to a basic racial and cultural cliché. Not once, twice but every single time you turn on your TV or go to the cinema, rent a DVD, stream a new TV drama, or listen to a radio play Wouldn’t you begin to feel ever so slightly irked. Imagine how you might feel after thirty or forty years of this – welcome to our world.
So as 2016 draws to a close (many are willing it to end) I turn my thoughts to face whatever will come in 2017.
I hope that it will be a more diverse, more equal and a more inclusive world .
Wishing you all health, happiness, prosperity and peace
Is it Yellowface? Is it artistic racism and subjugation when using a setting such as ancient China, that doesn’t really mean anything? Or is this practice symptomatic of something much darker and more worrying?
In The Depths of Dead Love according to the copy of from The Print Room is a
Set in ancient China, In the Depths of Dead Love tells of a poet exiled from the Imperial Court & the favour of the Emperor, who scrapes a living by renting his peculiar property – a bottomless well – to aspiring suicides. Among these is a married couple who exert an appalling influence over him. Told through Barker’s celebrated exquisite language and affecting humour In the Depths of Dead Love is the witty and poignant tale of a man facing an impossible dilemma.
I suspect that The Print Room is wishing that it could disappear into the depths and not emerge until the controversy that their Yellowface production of In The Depths of Dead Love is causing.
This is not going to go away.
Thursday, 15 December Daniel York posts on social media
Yellowface. Alive and not well in Nottinghill. You know what to do @the_printroom. And their Facebook page https://www.Facebook.com/theprintroom
For four days people took to social media to express their concerns, their anger, their bewilderment, that a play written by one of Britain’s most renowned playwrights, was going to be done using Yellowface.
How could a theatre in 2016, take such a retrograde, seemingly un-wonton and deliberate act of racism? After all that has been going on? After all the debates, the public “arguments” and pleas for more diversity in British culture; on small and big screens and on our theatre stages.
How could any professional theatre think, that setting a play in ancient China about indigenous people, then casting the piece using only white actors, was not going cause huge offence?
As Howard Sherman said of, the first Print Room statement it, was meaningless. By way of an apology this is what the Print Room initially offered:
some publicity material seem to have permitted the possibility of a misapprehension arising.
Misapprehension? I’d say out-and-out anger. The play is publicised, as set in ancient China. What exactly do you think people are going to take from that? There are no lines to read between. It is not vague, it is specific.
we could just as easily be in the metaphorical area of Hans Christen Anderson, or alternatively, the land of the Brothers Grimm.
But the play isn’t set in an alternative metaphorical land it’s been set in ancient China. If you wanted a “universal” outlook and you need to keep the play set in China, then why not, as one tweet suggested, cast diversely, using Black, Asian and White actors?
As many writers, tweeters, social media posters, and articles pointed out repeatedly, would such a play have been written using ancient Africa or India? Giving the characters African or Indian sounding names, such as Chimachana or Abahaba and then cast using only white actors?
The answer is a resounding NO.
So, if a playwright and a theatre, would not countenance doing the same with a play set in ancient Africa or India, (you see where I’m heading with this) what is it that makes everyone think, that this retrograde, deeply offensive and insulting practice is acceptable with China and the Chinese?
Whilst I acknowledge that the treatment of Black and Asian-British artists still leaves much to be desired, at least those British minorities have reached a point, where such crass, unthinking actions would not in general occur. At least when you say Black-British or British-Asian most people won’t bat an eyelid.
To make matters worse, The Print Room then issued a second statement on Wednesday 21st December, just in time for Christmas.
If I thought that the first statement was bad, then second did not disappoint. It went further, digging themselves deeper with insults, insinuations, heavily steeped in racial and cultural bias, topped off with a sprinkling of whitesplaining, flavoured heavily with white privilege, which dribbled over the side with white fragility.
When it comes to the wider British society and our cultural views towards British East Asians, we fair very differently to our colleagues of Black and Asian heritage.
This is not a discrimination p**sing contest to see who is more sinned upon than sinning. I am painfully aware that discrimination, prejudice, and racism is still, regrettably alive and directed towards anyone who is “different”. Whether that difference is physical, religious, sexual orientation, gender identification or racial or ethnic heritage.
People are still being subjected to discrimination above and below the line.
I suspect, that what I’m going on to explore, is going to be uncomfortable reading for some. There is a fundamental difference in the treatment of British East Asians as a minority in the UK. If one was to compare the way British society and culture perceives and portrays other British minorities, the treatment of British East Asians is definitely not the same. We are a true minority within the minorities.
That difference has always been there.
In the industry that I work in, (at least to me and my fellow East Asian artists) the inequality is blatantly obvious.
Want to learn more? I highly recommend this article written by Daniel York for Media Diversified, The Racial Pecking Order in British Theatre and TV.
Post-Brexit, yes I’ve said it.
Most “normal” people would refrain from publicly aligning themselves with the right-wing racist unless of course your Katie Hopkins or Nigel Farage. Many people may secretly share or be sympathetic to such views. But the majority will not publicly admit this. Most, would not go around using the N-word or P-word. But when it comes to East Asians, using the word Ch**k is perfectly ok.
I’ve been told, on numerous occasions, that it is a humorous compliment. It’s a bit of Mickey taking done with love. That using the word, Ch**nk, is no way as offensive as the N or P word.
A sharp intake of breath.
According to whom? Nigel Farage?
Well, excuse me, if I, as a British East Asian, disagree.
I can categorically assure you, it is every bit as insulting, demeaning and racist. Ask Sydney Chan.
The Print Room’s second statement only made matters worse. Click here to read it in full
no offence was meant, so none should be taken.
The Print Room may think that because they have explained the Chinese setting and Chinese names are not meant to be real. That the casting of the roles using white actors is totally justified and therefore acceptable.
Heck, it would not surprise me if the thought is, this piece is somehow paying homage to China and the Chinese.
The thing is, it stops being an homage, immediately you start trying to “play” someone else’s race. Irrespective of whether you use makeup and facial realignment or not.
It is this is this difference in attitudes, this indifference (at best) towards British East Asians, that sets us apart from other British citizens. If you like society places a chalk cross on our shoulders, the ramifications of which can be fatal.
Take the murder of Mi Gao Huang Chen, in 2003.
This was initially described by Detective Chief Inspector Steve Crimmins as youth nuisance and anti-social behaviour How can one call the brutal and savage beating to death of Mi Gao, by a gang of fifteen white youths, as anti-social behaviour?
In fact, it has been argued that it was the police’s initial reaction, or inaction, rooted in ingrained racial bias towards East Asians, which should take an equal portion of the blame, for the murder of Mi Gao. In as much as the gang of youths who actually perpetrated the crime.
Had the police acted earlier, had they not brushed aside the first report of “trouble” on that fatal night as high-spirited youths, being anti-social, perhaps Gao might still be alive today, we will never know. After all, this was in 2003, not 1993.
What I’m trying to say in a rather ham-fisted way, is that this ingrained negative bias towards British East Asians affects and ultimately continues to shape British society and how it reacts and interacts with its own British East Asian citizens. The effects of which ensure that we, as a section of British society, remain isolated, and segregated. Seen as the outsiders, fair game, for the butt, of many a cheap racist joke. And sadly in the case of Mi Gao, the ultimate conclusion, to such racist dehumanisation, the loss of life.
If you want to learn more about Mi Gao then click here.
These cultural and racial biases directed at East Asians run deep through British culture. So it is vital in the 21st century, that the representation and portrayal of East Asians in British media and on UK stages are, at least “accurate”.
That they are free from stereotypes, caricatures, and racial tropes.
What The Print Room is doing, whether intentional or not, is enabling the persistence of deep-rooted and traditional structural and institutionalised racism towards East Asians. Re-enforcing old Victorian attitudes, racism and prejudices towards East Asians, that we are of no value.
We are invisible. We are of no consequence other than as a useful backdrop to an English drama. Our role is not even a subsidiary one, but one of subservience. That we are not capable of taking on the mantle of a protagonist role. We cannot be heroes or lovers. We are the eternal one line waiters, illegal-immigrants, mail-order brides, prostitutes, emasculated and desexualised males, or fragile lotus blossoms. But always the ultimate cipher for exoticism, artistic “otherness” personified.
I am even more insulted by The Print Room’s second statement, than their first. ‘No offence was meant, so none should be taken.’
I am sure that no offence was meant. But offence you have caused and offence has been taken.
This is Colonialism for the 21st century, artistic Colonialism.
The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial artistic control over another country’s culture, by appropriation and occupation of said culture. Substituting and inserting participants of their own image, into that culture’s representations thus exploiting countries artistically.
This has to stop and stop now. If we are ever to reach the stage where it truly does not matter who does what on a UK stage or a British TV drama.
But until Britain address this imbalance of how it treats its British East Asian citizens then such nonsensical productions, will continue. They will continue to be excused citing artistic freedom or waving the spectre of censorship and at the same time saying that one Black performer in x=diversity.
Until I see the East Asian male Oxbridge educated lover, or the Mancunian, East Asian single mum and the Yorkshire East Asian OAP as head characters on TV and UK theatre stages, we are going nowhere fast.
The words coming from those who are the gatekeepers and the arbiters of British culture, proclaiming that they are committed to diversity, it’s just that, words.
Words are cheap, actions require real commitment, real investment, and real work.
Diversity, equality, and inclusion are not so if it only acknowledges some and not ALL. Why should the British East Asian have to watch everyone else seemingly receive such considerations? So let’s start working – for ALL.
If you feel strongly about this issue then please join the protest in the New Year click here for full details
related articles about #Yellowface production scheduled, January 2017
As is usual with these events if the filmmakers are present they participate in a brief Q&A session post-screening.
I get up to answer a few questions about the documentary. The usual stuff, how did you get involved, what was the thinking behind making the documentary, why this particular subject matter etc.
From the raised hands in the audience, the presenter picked out what appeared to me, to be a middle-aged lady.
Lady: Do you think it would be ok for me as white person to make a similar film about how I feel I don’t fit in? Me: Why do you feel that it would not be “ok” for you to make such a film? Lady: (Already mildly agitated) I’m sick of all this, people going on about how they are different – we’re all different! I’m sick of people judging me because I’m blond haired, blue eyed and speak well. I’m not rich, I speak well because I went to a good school, that’s not me but everybody judges and assumes. We’re all black you know. It’s been scientifically proven we all come from one mitochondrial DNA – EVE.
What do you think about that?! (Not allowing anyone to say anything and without seemingly to take breath)
Whining on about being different, being left out.
So what. I’m part Jewish, I’m part Scottish, I might even be part Chinese/ Presenter: Thank you for sharing your views but this is not the platform to use to express your personal opinions. We’re here today to talk about Lucy’s documentary. Audience Member: Why are you being so disrespectful? Lady: I’m/I saw my friend die in front of my he was killed by the NF, right there in front of me Presenter: I’m sorry to hear that, but we’re going to have to conclude this now.*
The lady was exceedingly agitated and was becoming physical and in the end had to be gently escorted out. It was, not laughed off, but the usual inference that this Lady was suffering from mental health problems was intimated in the general comments.
I had to leave earlier than I had intended, due to the ongoing industrial action by Southern Rail employees (why oh why can’t Southern Rail just sit down and talk to its staff and sort this out – yes I know it’s not as simple as that, but it should be).
I couldn’t stop thinking about the “heckler” and why the Lady chose to kick off. Why she chose my film as a springboard from which to launch herself. It’s very easy for us to ignore abhorrent, distasteful or offensive behaviour by labelling the person as being mentally unsound or suffering from some form of mental illness.
Thinking about what this Lady was saying not just in the cinema but outside in the foyer afterward. Lady: Good I like being disrespectful, I’ll say whatever I want, wherever I want, I’m sick of hearing about all these differences and how we should respect them**
This woman had a point to make (well several).
One that she felt more than passionate about. Being devil’s advocate I’ve been playing through the memory of the incident in my head.
That lady is no different to the thousands of white people up and down the UK, who feel as if they are being ignored. No one stops to worry about how she feels in modern day Britain. Everyone else (from this lady’s perspective) is too busy worrying about what the Black, Asian, and Ethnic minorities think. Worrying over refugees from other countries far away from her and her lived experience.
Now as a person of colour, one could take the view – welcome to my world this is how I’ve been made to feel all of my life. I deal with it on a day to day basis and actually until fairly recently the idea of speaking out about it was frankly a terrifying thought and the speaker would undoubtedly, at least have been shouted down, at worst physically silenced, with force.
The assertions that this Lady put forward, that she too was from a minority and what happened to a bunch Hong Kong transracial adoptees is happening to her and why can no one see that? It’s a stretch and on the face of it seems ludicrous. As a white person, as a westerner, you’re part of an old boys network, (you may not think you are but you are). A club that uses the rest of the globe and colonial past as the group bedrock.
The foundation upon which the 21st-century world has been built. Black, Asian, East Asian, Hispanic, Aboriginal people had no place in this world. In fact, one could say that this new era was built upon their backs and the dead corpses of the Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnics.
Who did what to whom in the past I cannot change as Anthony Lau in my documentary so eloquently expresses. But what I can do is look at what’s happening now and help to shape a better future.
The sadness is that people in the UK are feeling like they don’t belong in the country they were born in, that their parents were born in, that their grandparents were born in. But who is responsible for this, the government, the Western Eurocentric point of view? Britain’s lingering colonial attitudes towards those from different shores. The attitude and actions of many of those in the corridors of power, as if Britain still had an Empire.
Until we as a country truly embrace all of Britain’s citizens we will always be a fractured, dissatisfied society. Always looking to blame others for our own ills.
I think that my documentary as small as it is in the general wider scheme of things is an open door to talk to communicate with one another. To try understanding, and empathy. To see each other as human beings not as commodities, crutches or social props.
*|**This is a paraphrased recollection of the "conversation"