The Cons of Miss Saigon

by KEN CHOY via Yahoo! Voices

Oct 4, 2013

Miss Saigon returns to Minneapolis for the third time.

And for the third time, protests will be organized to combat the production.

Educational Value?

Patricia Mitchell, President and CEO of the Ordway, asserts the educational and social consciousness value of the musical. While she has not revealed plans to bus in school children to see her production as the theater did in 1993, Mitchell believes that the work provides the opportunity to talk about stereotypes, racism, and sexism.

Those who are organizing protests point out that presenting entertainment that glorifies the degradation of women and the dehumanization of Asians seldom leads to a balanced educational offering.

Esteemed poet and author David Mura writes in response, “Asian Americans have been having a discussion about racism in America long before Miss Saigon.”

Another protester asserts, “The fact that Mitchell believes she’s somehow helping the world understand Asians is racist itself. We are capable of thinking without the white person’s assistance.”

Another adds, “Is women gyrating and killing themselves an appropriate educational tool–for any age?” a protester asks.

Triumph of the Dehumanized spirit?

Proponents of the musical testify to the positive components of the work such as showcasing the triumph of the human spirit.

Protesters counter that that’s difficult to ascertain humanity in the midst of the subhuman representations of Asians in the musical: prostitutes, maniacal evil soldiers, and malevolent, faceless hordes.

“I am NOT your Miss Saigon. I am your fellow human being with a reality that exists,” writes C on the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon tumblr page. The site was created for people to present “Our Truth” to offset the “insulting fantasies” of the production.

Complaints Confined

Those involved with Miss Saigon claim that it’s only Minnesotans that have a problem with the work.

The “Our Truth” Project page discounts that assertion. People from around the world have thus far contributed. Protests in Seattle and Boston to name just a few also contradict the claim that it’s only a small group that is upset.

In 1991, the media named the complaints regarding the yellowface cosmetics as the reason for the protests. However issues with the depictions have always existed. David Henry Hwang, a prominent figure in the 1991 protest, won a Tony award three years earlier for M Butterfly which confronted fetishized notions of Asians. It’s unlikely he would have suddenly disassociated himself from complaints about the racist and sexist images in the work.

“It’s a common tactic to make the political personal. By confining the problems to a few ‘troublemakers’, it makes it look like the problem lies with the protesters,” says one experienced activist.

New Ideas?

As pointed out in M Butterfly, by Hwang, Mura, Dorinne Kondo, Bao Phi, Peter Kwan, and countless others, the recurrent theme of the Asian woman dying for the white man is nothing new.

In Madame Butterfly, the Asian woman kills herself. And gives her baby to the Caucasian wife of her officer lover.

In Rambo, the Asian woman gets gunned down.

Shogun: dead. Sayonara: dead too.

There’s no new ground paved with Miss Saigon. Nor will there be with an ill-advised update of Madame Butterfly by Brett Ratner.

Says another protester, “Why doesn’t the white man kill himself in Miss Saigon? Why must it always be the Asian woman? I suppose, with the Asian woman, there’s no legal mess. If she stayed alive with the white man, the white wife would want alimony. And you know how hellish that can be for the white guy!”

Respected artist and activist Kip Fulbeck warns wryly, “Don’t get too lost in the fantasy. Some of us are real.”

The Don’t Buy Miss Saigon tumblr page and other protest activities surrounding the musical are ongoing in Minnesota and worldwide.

Ken Choy is a screenwriter, actor, producer, journalist, teacher, and director. He has won awards and fellowships for his screenwriting, performance art, and playwriting. He writes for Hyphen Magazine, GizmoPorn, Wide Lantern,,, and The NAPE which he founded.

He also is an efficiency expert, professional shopper, and mystery shopper, appearing on a two segment arc on CBS2 news. He has moderated panels at Wondercon and Comic-Con with Disney/ABC.