Face of British Cultural Colonialism?

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

megaFor 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?

In The Depths of Dead Love - Print Room responds to Yellowface production
Print Room’s response to Yellowface production
Howard Sherman
Howard Sherman

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.

the-print-room-2nd-statementWhen 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.

Image of a family snap photo showing the United Kingdom Union Jack and European Community flags - ripped in two as a divorce photo.

Post-Brexit, yes I’ve said it.

Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins

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.

Examples of Yellowface
Yellowface: Vogue, The Olympic Spanish Basket Ball Team, Bi-racial blogger, Katherine Hepburn, Jonathan Pryce, Katy Perry, Tilda Swinton.
Stanley, Emily Ah Foo and family
Emily married Stanley Ah Foo, a merchant seaman during WWII, by doing so she lost here British citizenship. Many of the Chinese seamen who served during WWII were rounded up and forced onto ships bound for China they didn’t even have time to say goodbye to their wives and children. Many thought that their husbands had just abandoned them. The Aliens act, or the part of that Law that stripped women of their citizenship and forced entire families to have to report to their local police stations. Was not removed from the statute until the mid 70s

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.

nationality-act-1981These 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
Erin Quill aka thefairyprincessdiarieIn the Depths of British Theatrical Racism


Daniel York The Play's The Thing.

Dr. Amanda Rogers, Yellowface alive and well at the Print Room

 The Stage London's Print Room criticised for 'racist' casting of Chinese roles

Howard Sherman

Yellowface is wrong, and the Print Room's statement is meaningless

J Waygood

In the Depths of Questionable Casting Decisions: My Response as a Half-Chinese Critic

Equity statement on Print Room Production

Whitewashing at The Print Room? By Vera Chok

Jamie Zubairi No #Yellowface Please. We're British


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