A protest was staged outside Minnesota’s Ordway Theater Oct. 8, the opening night of the Kansas City Starlight Theatre’s production of Miss Saigon.
Between 100-200 people gathered to express their objections to the musical’s portrayal of the Vietnam War, human trafficking and Asian men and women. The protest included speakers, local politicians, poets and dancers, as well as people chanting, “No more lies/No more pain/Miss Saigon infects your brain.”
This production marks the third time the Ordway has presented Miss Saigon. The previous two productions were also met with protests.
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.
The aspects of Miss Saigon that some said the coalition objects to include the romanticization of human trafficking and the portrayal of Asian women as being sexually submissive and available. He said the musical, which features an encounter between a 17-year-old Vietnamese girl who is forced into prostitution and her encounter with an adult white male American GI, presents the encounter as a love story and distorts the nature of prostitution and human trafficking.
The Making of ‘Miss Saigon’
Erin Quill, an Asian-American actress whose stage credits include Avenue Q and And the Earth Moved, examined the controversy in a lengthy blog post, saying, “I mean, if you are going to protest based on the perception that the show in question portrays women in a negative light, you can feel free to do that, but picking just ONE show to protest based on women’s issues is…you know, discriminatory. What are you saying? Asian prostitutes in a show are ‘bad’, but you have no opinion on Caucasian Prostitutes or Latin Prostitutes or African American Prostitutes?”
Quill also commented on the casting in her blog, writing, “Let me tell you something- and this is as straight as I can say it — Asian American Actors can take ANY part they choose. Period. The End. Asian American Actors are under NO obligation to make Asian America ‘comfortable’ with their personal choices. We do not stand over your shoulder at your job and tell you that you cannot do it, merely because it is our opinion that it should not be done. Asian American Actors can use accents. Asian American Actors can play Pimps, Doctors, Prostitutes, Deli Owners, Thieves, Kings, and whatever else there is out there. We audition and people hire us. And if we can perform, on Broadway, or on a Television show, or in a Feature film, where it is so competitive even to get a a callback — then YOU, Mr. Joe Protestor, are not allowed to rob us of our right to do it to the highest possible level we can. THAT is what Equality means TO US. That our choices are unlimited.”
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