Wednesday, 4 January 2017

A Letter to Princess Eugenie and to the Editor of The Daily Telegraph

1. HRH Princess Eugenie c/o HRH The Duke of York
2. Editor, The Daily Telegraph

Madam, and Sir

The Print Room has the right to speak freely about anything and anyone however they please; after all, words have never hurt anyone. But the answer The Print Room gave for their casting choices (Princess Eugenie caught up in 'racism' row over white actors playing Chinese parts, 24 December 2016) was: 

It is, in fact a very Englishplay and is derived from thoroughly English mores and simply references the mythic and the ancient. It has therefore been cast accordingly.

It would appear that The Print Room,  in choosing who gets to play characters with ‘Chinese’ names who live in Ancient China’, have used ‘thoroughly English mores’ and not acting ability as their selection criteria.  Do Helen Mirren, Rhys Ifans and Ewan McGregor project ‘thoroughly English mores’ more effectively, than, say, someone like me who looks ‘East Asian’ or ‘Chinese’? Do the captains of other industries in England also only bear ‘thoroughly English mores’ in mind when they hire?

Mr Keates’s proactive but equally worrying reply has been to invite Princess Eugenie to revoke her patronage and to compel The Print Room to scrap their play. Worrying, because no-one should be pressured to give up their job over trifles, like casting choices in a play, and because the setting and premise of a work of fiction are insulting/offensive to some, including me.

Speaking for myself,  although I champion the right of The Print Room and Mr Barker to create whatever they want and cast whoever they want, I feel uneasy. To me, the Print Room’s statements and actions are the embodiment of ‘Chinese people can be WHATEVER (not WHOEVER) we think they are’ and ‘China and Chinese culture can be whatever we think they are’. I ought to let this slide, because what The Print Room has done is trivial, but my discomfort stems from wondering whether such an outlook is present outside of the theatre, and to what extent. The consequences of taking action under the influence of unfounded prejudices and bias, especially on an international stage, cannot be so easily dismissed.

I have a soft spot for ‘panto Aladdin’ and ‘The Mikado’, which are products of their time, but in this age of the internet, cheap flights and globalisation, setting a ‘very “English” play’ in ‘Ancient China’, using that premise and those names, and then talking about ‘thoroughly English mores’ when questioned, smacks of something else.  We need to consider whether this has happened for the same reason 'The Mikado' was set in 'Japan'. Is there something about modern England that stifles how a story is told? Or was rampant prejudice and bias present and alive throughout the development of this play? 

We all need to talk about this, and listen to and not censor each other.  Fingers crossed that everyone else around me has the answers I seek.

Yours sincerely
Beanie Lei, England

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