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Network’s decision to edit out yellow face character from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ draws criticism

  • British TV network Channel 5 has removed scenes containing the late Mickey Rooney's caricature depiction of a Japanese character in the 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

  • Rooney, a white man, had his eyes taped, wore buck teeth and used an exaggerated accent to deliver one of the most notorious yellowface depictions ever put on film.

  • Filmmaker Terry Gilliam, former star of “Monty Python,” criticized the move, alleging that it is “absurd and dangerous” to remove “characters from films that had already survived the critical eye of past official censors.”

  • Before Rooney died in 2014, he said he “wouldn't have done it” if he knew people would be offended by the portrayal.

Scenes that show the late Mickey Rooney’s caricature depiction of a Japanese character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” were recently scrubbed from a version released by Channel 5 in the UK. 

The free-to-air television network, which currently airs Audrey Hepburn’s classic film via its streaming service My5, earned criticism after it decided to remove the scenes featuring the character of Mr. Yunioshi, Express reported.

The 1961 American romantic comedy is regarded as an “iconic classic” by film critics and listed in the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” important. However, many have singled out Rooney’s blatantly racist portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in the film as its biggest flaw.

In one of the most notorious yellowface depictions on film, Rooney, a white man, had his eyes taped, wore buck teeth and used an exaggerated accent to deliver his lines.

The insulting representation has since been a part of conversations surrounding racist portrayals of Asian characters in mainstream entertainment, as previously explored by NextShark.

The portrayal was even dubbed “the godfather of the ‘Ching-Chong’ stereotype” by Jeff Yang in a 2014 Wall Street Journal piece.

However, some have pushed back against Channel 5’s removal of the racist scenes, noting that it sets a dangerous precedent for similar censorship in the future.

Among those who criticized the move was filmmaker Terry Gilliam, former star of “Monty Python.”

“Censorship seems to be a growth industry in Britain these days,” he was quoted as saying. ”To remove scenes of characters from films that had already survived the critical eye of past official censors seems absurd and dangerous. Who are the new censors? “Who has given them the right to bowdlerize?”

According to Hepburn’s son Sean Hepburn Ferrer, the film must be viewed from the perspective of people at the time it was filmed.

“That is the big problem today,” he said. “Everything is looked at within the scope of one lifetime as if we were the most important point in the story. The film is what it is and you should put a warning at the beginning saying it was made in 1961 and these were the decisions made at the time.”

Broadcasters have generally included a content warning at the beginning of the film but no one has done a full re-edit of it before. 

Before his passing in 2014, Rooney said he “wouldn’t have done it” if knew people would be offended with the portrayal.

“It breaks my heart. Blake Edwards, who directed the picture, wanted me to do it because he was a comedy director,” he said. “They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it.”

Edwards, who died in 2010, also regretted that he cast Rooney for the role: “Looking back, I wish I had never done it. I would give anything to be able to recast it, but it’s there…”

Featured Image via Peter Griffin

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