The Fairy Princess is getting pretty sick of writing this blog.
Yes, she said it. Because every day she tries to get excited about advances for Diversity – such as ABC giving FRESH OFF THE BOAT a historic second season order, or HAMILTON or SCHOOL OF ROCK and then she turns on her computer, or her phone, or opens the paper and thinks…
There are 2 items of abject f*ckery today, that she has to chime in on…
YES I USED A STAR THERE, KIDS READ THIS SH*T YA KNOW – IT GIVES THEM F***ING HOPE OR SO THEY TELL ME….
TFP needs a dance break…
Ok, much better, let’s get this blog rollin’….
First up – for the theater folk – The Mikado.
TFP actually loves The Mikado – not as much as Pirates of Penzance, but she does love the music and what the intentions of Gilbert and Sullivan were when they wrote it. What were they, oh neophytes?
Well, to mock the Victorian mores of the time in which it was written. All they were trying to do was to shake it up a bit when they placed it in Japan – and they used words like Poo, yes, rather generously because at the time, verbal naughtiness was being able to slip in the word ‘poo’ surreptitiously because that is what people laughed at then.
The Brits, they love it.
Meant absolutely nothing at all in terms of trying to insult Japanese people, it was a British joke, for British people.
TFP wrote extensively about it when they did that awful production in Seattle, so let’s not repeat.
TFP does not want to take away anyone’s chance to hear the music of THE MIKADO – but it is in the performance of the work that people often fall sh…er, racist.
The performances are often very racist – because everyone wants to be Asian onstage – don’t ask why, TFP still has not figured that one out yet, but they do not really want to be Asian, or in this case, Japanese – what they want to do, and what they continually do, is dress up to make Japanese heritaged people the butt of a badly performed joke.
TFP never gets why this is funny.
But then TFP does not get why Donald Trump is a viable contender for President of the United States either.
People who do The Mikado with exaggerated makeup, stereotyped gestures, and general disrespect to Japanese people are racist.
Let’s focus on one specific company – The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, aka NYGASP.
Those are their production stills above.
Now, whether or not NYGASP knows it, TFP has seen quite a few of their productions, because she has had, over the years, many friends in their productions. TFP knows what she saw on the stage, and she knows quite a bit about the personalities backstage, and what you need to know, dear Reader, is that the Artistic Director, Albert Bergeret, is fully pleased with himself and everything that he has put up on stage, and here is an example.
Now here is something quite a few people do not know, rumor has it more singers have left NYGASP vowing never to sing G&S again than have stayed with NYGASP – it’s like Scientology for operetta – allegedly.
As it is a repertory company they are again doing The Mikado – and when people called to ask “Are there any Asians in the Cast?”, they were told that there were 2, but that the company is made of Gilbert and Sullivan experts and they were doing it the traditional way – which is that awful ‘historical accuracy’ excuse that was so recently used by Trevor Nunn in his The Wars of the Roses Shakespeare mash up in England.
Here is the thing though – TFP saw the last time they did The Mikado – she can tell you this – the one she saw was NOT historically accurate, or in any way what G&S would have wanted.The photos are above.
Gilbert wanted the representation of Japanese people to be respectful and elegant, and when TFP viewed it, Mr. Bergeret had added a character….
THE AXE COOLIE!
The Axe Coolie was NOT a character created by Gilbert and Sullivan. First of all, “Coolie’ is a term used to refer to Chinese workers at a time in America, and The Mikado is supposed to take place in Japan.
Those are two entirely different countries.
The Axe Coolie was a small female child who ran around the stage dressed as a male, er, an Asian male, waving a GIANT paper machie axe and shouting “High Ya” whenever she was on stage.
Needless to say, “High ya” also not Japanese.
Therefore, to give credence to their claim of ‘professionalism’ or ‘historical accuracy’ would be false. They are neither. They played The Mikado for cheap laughs at the expense of Japanese Heritage. Their mounting it the same year ALLEGIANCE is making it’s Broadway debut is insulting to Japanese Americans if they are continuing to include this character and the same ‘jokes’ she was witness to. TFP has checked with a past NYGASP member, that addition is a staple of Mr. Bergeret’s productions of this operetta. The conversation went something like this:
TFP: There was this kid dressed as a boy holding a giant (Gets cut off)
TFP’s Friend: “Oh, the Axe Coolie? Yeah, he’s always in there.”
Seeing NYGASP’s production of THE MIKADO convinced one of the Artistic Directors of Lodestone Theater Ensemble to choose THE MIKADO PROJECT as a play to do,
and later, TFP helped co-write the screenplay when it was made into a indie film.
Yes, THE MIKADO PROJECT‘s first green light came after TFP and Chil Kong viewed NYGASP’s hideously shuffling, yellowfaced, pulling their eyes, rescinding their lower lip to make their front teeth look bigger, and of course, the unforgettable Axe Coolie laden production of The Mikado. They left the theater, and immediately thought that something had to be done.
TFP has now given you the backstory of the first production of THE MIKADO PROJECT written by Doris Baizley and Ken Narasaki, and how it eventually became a screenplay, and then an indie film directed by Chil Kong. Doris and Ken had submitted it, but it was a first draft that Mr. Kong was not sure about – after seeing NYGASP, he was sure it had to be done.
Now, as previously stated, TFP has no issue with The Mikado as written – it is the way in which it is performed. It is also the fact that several Asian American singers she knows, who are excellent, have applied over the years for auditions with NYGASP, and not been given appointments.
NYGASP is located in New York City, one of the most diverse cities on the planet – and yet they continue to shout about historical accuracy as they paint themselves yellow and, in the production viewed by TFP, add characters that spoke only to the lowest common denominator.
TFP is dismayed that a prestigious theater like NYU’s Skirball Center would joyfully mount those production stills upon their website – but then she believes they do not have any idea about The Axe Coolie.
There are so many ways that THE MIKADO has been done, so many brilliant ways to stage it – without all these tired tropes, without exaggerated paint, that she finds it incredibly frustrating that NYGASP would trot this production out again, clearly out of step with New York City and all it’s citizens, and our incredible Arts scene that celebrates Diversity.
NO! No oh Operetta Singers of NYGASP – do not come gunning for me with an “that is just the way it is done’ – you of ALL people know very well that is NOT, actually, how it is done. Not at all.
Fifty whacks of the Princess wand for each of you, and no, TFP is not coming to the show again, the Axe Coolie might be there.
Now we come to the second bit of INANE F*CKERY that happened today…and it has to do with Matt Damon telling his African American Producer, Effie Brown, on PROJECT GREENLIGHT where Diversity belongs, and apparently it only belongs on Project Greenlight when he says it does, and not anywhere else.
….TFP watched it a few times, because she was told that previous articles that pointed out this behavior were skewered or did not present the truth of the matter.
So TFP is just gonna put up the clip:
Now to be fair to Matt Damon, this clip was edited from the show – they cut out some of the ‘air’ of Ms. Brown’s plea for them to consider Diversity, and they cut out Mr. Damon’s beginning response to Ms. Brown – which was that the Team she wanted – which was Leo Kei Angelos and Kristen Brancaccio – were the ones that were most enthusiastic about the script ‘as is’.
All the other Directors that came in, and The Farrelly Brothers, Mr. Damon himself, and Jennifer Todd, President of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s production company, Pearl Street Films, all think that there is an issue with the female character of Harmony.
He then tries to catch Ms. Brown in a you say you want diversity but they are our most diverse team and we can’t pick them based on that because we might wind up with a more typical film than we want kind of thing since they already like the script as is and we all think there are problems with it.
Which was not what happened either in their interview.
Before their interview, those in the room agreed that “Team Diversity” were the most solid filmmakers. Then they walked in the door and started their interview, and what they really wanted to know was “Well where did you guys meet?”
Which, to TFP read like a “Well what country are you from?” kind of question for Mr. Angelos – but they knew they could not ask it. “Team Diversity” did say they really liked the script, all of it, but to be fair to them, most people would not walk in and tell the people who could potentially hire them and hand them 3 million dollars to make a film of a script that they had already chosen, well we HATE it. Their opener was that they liked it, and then they got a bit more ‘into’ some concerns.
Ms. Brancaccio specifically said that one of the concerns she had about this broad comedy which has a black female prostitute getting slapped by her pimp, was that she wanted to make sure that the film did not ‘slut shame’ this character. To his credit, Mr. Angelos added that there were things, since meeting Ms. Brancaccio, that he had never thought about as a Director and that he valued her point of view.
“Slut shame’ was not at all what the other directors interviewing seemed to be concerned about – and that is an example of how a female voice at the helm – can start to treat a story differently from the very beginning. It also speaks to the way they work as a Directing team, they listen to one another and can ‘give’ on issues and compromise.
Mr. Damon was not recalling that in his rebuttal to Ms. Brown – because he liked the emaciated-difficult-to-work-with Director who is uber Caucasian and named, hilariously, Jason Mann.
Matt Damon wanted THE MANN and he got him. Jason Mann, the selected director.
THE MANN was able to walk in and say he hated the script, and still they hired him, because….THE MANN.
The Farrellys did not like THE MANN, and they will probably be prophetic, but they have only made bajillions of dollars in comedy, and are the mentors on the show, so…what do they know, anyway?
On his way to…well, getting HIS way – Mr. Damon said these words in regards to Diversity:
“When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show!”
Meaning, they’ll hire actors to show that they are acknowledging that Diversity on film broadens it’s appeal, but here in the back room where the decisions are made, things will always remain as they are, because in the back room, no one cares about Diversity because there is none and they are FINE with that.
They might hire one diverse person on a project by project basis who they then can talk over, even though they hired her for her taste and knowledge and success rate, but it will ONLY be one person, and they better not speak up!
So what we are now going to see on Project Greenlight is a bunch of white guys, making a broad comedy where one of the main characters is a Black prostitute. Who gets slapped. By a pimp.
Just kidding. Please don’t kill Matt Damon, there are lots of Bourne books that have not made it to the big screen yet – and TFP has read all those books! Anyway – here is our ‘Team’, here is the White Guys that chose another White Guy and Effie Brown who has real credits, taste, and concerns that they are probably going to ignore all season.
At the end of the day, this is very typical of Hollywood, where you are more likely to get into a accident on the 405 than hired as a Female Person of Color who directs feature films. This is very typical of the mindset – “Diversity only when people can give us credit for it’.
Here’s what – Diversity in front and behind the camera, on the page, and on the stage is important. It’s vitally important because if there is only one kind of person telling stories, then only one kind of story gets told. This is how we get Directors trying to convince us that Emma Stone is a Chinese Hawaiian Hapa- a story, btw, that Director Cameron Crowe made up!
Only Caucasians telling stories…even stories based on previous existing artistic works like comics that show what a character looks like means that Tilda Swinton is now at 500 year old Tibetan man,
and then she turned around and said that it was a win for Diversity because a woman got a part over a man!
When film goers riot because a little girl in a film looks like the description of the character from the book. A book they were too busy reading to realize that everyone in the book was not white, that even the lead character was supposed to be Native American, but was not cast that way – we, as a society, have a problem. Part of that problem, is that Diversity is left to the imaginations of people who think like Matt Damon.
Matt Damon chose THE MANN in all the possible ways he could by talking over Ms. Brown, and that was surprising, since he usually defaults to ‘loveable movie star who awww shucks just happened to make good’.
TFP actually met him in a Coffee Bean on Sunset Blvd a long time ago, he was behind her in line and tapped her shoulder to say he left his wallet in the car, could she hold his place in line. She said yes, without looking up from the book she was reading, and so imagine her surprise that when he touched her shoulder so she DID look up, to say thank you – it was MATT DAMON. Getting his own iced mochas. And when they asked his name for his drink he said Matt, and then he slunk down at a table really low pretending he wasn’t Matt Damon. So he missed them calling his drink. The Barista was yelling “Matt! Matt!” and by now all of us had realized it was him, so we all kind of hissed “MATT” at the same time. At which point he flushed, jumped up, got his two giant frozen drinks and raced out. Ever since then, TFP liked him because he used his real name to get his drinks.
Acknowledging that you look for diversity does not weaken anyone’s talent or ability, everyone there was in the Top 10. If Jason Mann was the best choice, he was the best choice – but to not realize that there are issues that may be better handled when told by a person with a different viewpoint? That IS an issue. To not WANT to hear that Diversity may help tell a story? That is an issue as well.
The color of one’s skin and one’s gender influences many things – if your opinion is considered on a regular basis, if you feel safe at night walking to your car, your ability to get a raise, your ability to get hired, your ability to rise within a company…. to inspire people to strive for their dreams, for their very American dreams, they have to be shown a possibility.
Even if it is ‘only’ a television show.
Even if it is ‘only’ a film.
Even if it is ‘only’ a play or a musical.
Diversity matters behind the camera, because there are more stories in the world than Matt Damon and his buddies can tell.
TFP for one, is ready to hear more of them.
Fifty Whacks of the wand to Matt Damon – you don’t browbeat a Producer expressing an opinion, and you should ask yourself Mr. Damon – would you have responded to Effie Brown’s question quite so stridently if it had been expressed by a Farrelly Brother?
Also, you looked like a jerk.
Hold your head UP, Ms. Effie Brown – we all saw your struggle, and you kept it together and professional. Made your points, and we all see what you are up against – hope the season winds up working out well (but it won’t because it is Project Greenlight) and that you go on to bigger and more diverse stories to tell!
Applause for Ms. Brown, Children – Respect and let’s dance it out!