The Plague of ‘Miss Saigon’

by NAOMI KO via HuffPost


Minnesota’s Ordway Center of Performing Arts finds itself in a not-so-nice situation by hosting Broadway’s popular musical, “Miss Saigon” for the third time. And Minnesotans, especially its large Vietnamese and South Asian population are not happy with the Ordway’s decision to bring it back.

What is “Miss Saigon” and why is it an issue? It is the Vietnam War retelling of Puccini’s opera, “Madame Butterfly.” It centers on Chris, an American G.I. stationed in Saigon during the Vietnam War. He and his fellow soldiers visit a brothel where Chris meets Kim, a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese prostitute. They fall in love, but soon after Chris departs, leaving Kim pregnant with his son. Later Chris returns to Saigon, but as a married man to a white American woman. Kim, meanwhile, has been raising her son on her own. When Kim discovers Chris is married, she decides to kill herself so that Chris can take their son to the States where he will live a better life.

Simply–there are just a lot of issues with “Miss Saigon.” It perpetuates the stereotype of weak Asian women ready to be saved by western men (i.e. “The Last Samurai,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” etc.). It affirms the emasculation of Asian men as weak and/or sexless (i.e. “Two Broke Girls,” “Sixteen Candles,” or “Romeo Must Die”). It celebrates western colonialism and falsely portrays the Vietnamese during the war. And lastly, “Miss Saigon” romanticizes transnational adoption, reaffirming the belief that children from the east can only be properly raised by white Americans.

The Ordway’s CEO and President, Patricia Mitchell, stated at a conversation hosted by Mu Performing Arts that the audience who would benefit the most from the musical is not the Asian or Asian American community. Ironically, a musical that only reaffirms harmful and hateful stereotypes would best “educate” non-Asian audiences. In addition, Mitchell claimed that “Miss Saigon” is “helpful” because it highlights the controversy of the musical and sparks conversations around the issues of race. Unfortunately, the Asian American community is well-versed on conversations of race and does not seek assistance from the Ordway.

Mitchell fails to see that there is a wealth of Asian American talent right in Minnesota. Mu Performing Arts, a nationally leading Asian American theater company (and only a ten-minute walk away) has a strong history of creating and producing new plays and musicals. Asian American artists create, perform, and share their works publicly and consistently. The Ordway’s production of “Miss Saigon” is not needed to educate because Asian Americans already accurately represent themselves. The Ordway’s production means more than your evening’s entertainment. It is an affirmation of racism and white superiority in an institution that claims their mission is to provide art “at the highest level of quality to the largest number of people [they] can reach.”

When the curtain rises for “Miss Saigon” at the Ordway, Asian American artists will be performing their own free show, Don’t Buy Miss Saigon: The Unity Event. Because honest representation makes the best art.

For more information on the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition, click here.
For more information on the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon: The Unity Event, click here.

Naomi Ko is a writer and actor based in Minneapolis. Follow Naomi on Twitter: