An upcoming Asian American online play titled “Ching Chong Chinaman” has been accused of racism on social media.
The rehearsed reading, based on Lauren Yee’s 2011 book of the same name, follows an Asian American family who acquires an “indentured servant” from mainland China.
The backlash erupted from a London casting call posted on Facebook, which sought for “U.K. East and South East Asian actors.” It specifically called for six actors, one of which is called “The Chinese Woman” and will play a “variety of accents.”
The casting call also described the play as a “biting satirical comedy” by Yee. “‘Ching Chong Chinaman’ is a sly and thought-provoking poke at middle-class facades, exploding stereotypes and what happens when the diaspora encounters its severed root,” it said.
The notice, which was posted on Dec. 9, quickly drew criticism from Facebook users.
“As much as I love satire, I think it’s worth changing the title. It’s like calling a show the N-word. It won’t fly by,” one wrote. “But seeing as racism towards Asian people is so overlooked, our experiences of racism often boils down to what OTHER people think is acceptable or not. It’s as if we are on hold, waiting for people to choose a side; to validate our experiences, feelings and opinions…or not. So please consider changing it.”
Another commented, “Why would any Asian in their right mind audition for a play which takes its name from a racial slur? This is not satire. This is insulting and ridiculous.”
“I do not agree with this title by any shape or form and will contact Ms. Yee. She should know better,” another noted.
Yee is a San Francisco-born playwright, screenwriter and TV writer. She is currently based in New York City, according to her website.
She is best known for “Cambodian Rock Band,” “The Great Leap” and “King of the Yees.” She has also won numerous accolades for her work, including the Doris Duke Artist Award, the Steinberg Playwright Award, the Horton Foote Prize, the Kesselring Prize, the ATCA/Steinberg Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters Literature Award, and the Francesca Primus Prize.
— Artists at Play (@AAPlay) April 17, 2017
Sandra Meunier, who posted the notice, defended the play against the allegations. She said it was chosen by British Asian director Jonathan Man, who also wrote the casting call.
“It’s a seminal play by Lauren *Yee*, written in 2013, to great acclaim. I’m personally rather confused as to why you didn’t know the play and actually didn’t even bother searching for it?” Meunier wrote. “It reminds me of that visitor who once insisted *I* had to change a word on a well-known poster in an exhibition about ‘rebellion in theatre’ because she didn’t like a word on it.”
Equity South & South East London Branch, which will present the rehearsed reading, released a statement in response to critics. It apologized for the “reposting” of the casting call “without an appropriate trigger warning.”
“The Branch committee, after months of careful and considered discussion and thought, unanimously chose Lauren Yee’s professional debut play ‘Ching Chong Chinaman’ (2008) to be the first rehearsed reading of this series. This play is part of the Asian American theatre canon and broke new ground for the cultural landscape in North America, some of the fruits of which can be enjoyed today internationally. We knew, because the play title intentionally uses discriminatory language, that this could be an area of controversy as there can be two or more sides to any responses. On balance, we believe the playwright, Lauren Yee, who identifies as Chinese American, has not chosen this play title lightly and we understand that the use of strong language has the power to trigger and offend.
“Given this, we have been made aware of a reposting of a casting call-out without an appropriate trigger warning in place. We wish to apologise for this. We’d like to thank everyone for their comments and opinions, and we genuinely feel that we have very much common ground with many of the responses.”
“Ching Chong Chinaman” will be available to watch via Zoom on Friday.
Feature Image Screenshots via Sandra Meunier