In New York, an Asian American group is planning to boycott the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast at Tiffany, which is being screened in Brooklyn Bridge Park on August 11th. The film is being shown as part of the Park Conservancy’s free outdoor “Movies With a View” series, which receives some city funding but is primarily sponsored by the SyFy network.
While mainstream audiences will remember the film as a classic, it is also notorious for featuring Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese character played in ridiculous yellowface by Mickey Rooney. Many consider Rooney’s role to be one of the worst caricatures in Hollywood history and I want to make sure that everybody is absolutely clear on this matter.
But is this film really worth protesting about?
As much as I despise this film’s portrayal of an Asian character, I don’t see the point of the protest because I do believe Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a classic that deserves to be seen as one of Audrey Hepburn’s most timeless films. Now it is interesting to note this film series is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Therefore, this will be a public event where kids and adults will be mingling around to watch this film while supposedly having a good summer time. But is it right that this film is to be banned just because there was a racist portrayal of an Asian character that plays a small scene in what is otherwise a pretty fantastic film?
Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man strongly voiced his opinion that the protest for this film is justified. While I completely understand where he’s coming from and feel the same outrage as he does over such a stupid character, I believe this protest is an act of bullying to prevent folks from enjoying this film. It seems to be patronizing of us to believe that we are doing the public a service by not showing this film at all. Rather, I think it is necessary that we DO show it and when the Mr. Yunioshi character shows up, there should be a discussion with the audience members, non-Asian and Asians.
Some will argue that this film is just as bad as screening a film with a black face minstrel show. There is definitely some merit to this as racist depictions of Asians tend to get the slip while racist depictions of blacks will guarantee a huge outcry that will get white people all shaken up. But this is not about the volume of protest but rather to focus without getting riled up about the matter at hand. I will argue that unlike black face minstrel shows, Breakfast at Tiffany is not about Mr. Yunioshi, a rather a small supporting role, but about Audrey Hepburn. To boycott a film over a sour patch (or rotten, really) may not the direction we need to go in.
It can be said that because the screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s will expose new audiences to this stereotypical character without comment, even if the Mr. Yunioshi character only shows up in small dosages, it can still be damaging. However, there is no gain to be had if we restrict ourselves from the negative events that has happened in the past. We can only learn if we allow ourselves to see the good and ugly side of things. That’s my 2 cents though…what do you all think?
(On a side note, it is rather discouraging reading the comments from the New York Post as so far it has been “oh lighten up you slanty eyed zipperheads”, “go make me some fwied wice”, to “It’s a freking movie for God’s sake”, complete with the grammatical errors. These are the times when I wish I could teleport to each and every single ignorant person’s place and slap them with a large rubber fish multiple times.)