An Australian comedian was forced to cancel her one-woman show at the upcoming Melbourne Fringe Festival after sparking outrage over her character’s use of “yellowface.”
Kate Hanley Corley, who was scheduled to perform eight renditions of “Aisha the Aussie Geisha: The Accidental Oriental” from Sept. 20, announced her withdrawal on Wednesday after an open letter accusing it of racism circulated online.
The show centers on a Koo Wee Rup dairy farmer who trains to become the world’s first foreign geisha in an elaborate effort to win back her boyfriend who fell for a Japanese girl.
Its official synopsis concluded, “It’s a love story as hot as wasabi.”
The letter, which had more than 70 signatures — including other artists in the festival — described Corley’s act as a “stereotyped depiction of orientalist fantasy that borders on yellowface.”
It called upon the festival management to ensure that the event “does not continue to host, encourage and perpetuate unacceptable material with racist, oppressive and demeaning content.”
Liminal, the Asian Australian magazine that published the letter, referred to Corley’s show as “the absolute Caucasity” in a Twitter thread.
“Yes, we understand that it is a White person ‘playing’ a White person attempting to ‘be Japanese.’ But this faux-wokeness is so immensely disturbing. It creates a mirror through which racial essentialism is reinforced.”
The magazine pointed out that yellowface, regardless of intent, is “racist and inappropriate.”
“Regardless of satire, this photograph *still* contains a white woman in yellowface. This image taps into a century of racial exclusion in the film industry. This image is harmful and deeply unnecessary.”
Responding to the uproar, Corley and the Melbourne Fringe Festival arrived at a mutual decision of canceling the show.
In a statement, the festival claimed that it “strives to be an inclusive place for everyone” but acknowledged that its commitment to freedom of artistic expression can sometimes be in conflict with such aim.
“The work was to be presented by an independent artist as part of the festival’s open access program and had not been programmed by Melbourne Fringe.
“We are listening to our community’s concerns on this issue and we are taking the comments on board as we review our policies and strengthen our procedures for our open access program to ensure that Fringe does not compromise the safe cultural spaces we seek to create.”
Meanwhile, Corley said that the backlash has upset her “greatly,” and that Japanese audiences had supported her first iteration of the show.
“That the show is being referred to as racist and ‘yellowface’ has upset me greatly as I have many Japanese friends who supported the first iteration of the show, along with it being well received by audiences without any accusations of racism,” she said, according to The Age.
“The content of the show focuses on sending up masculine Australian culture and it’s my belief that it does not in any way denigrate Japanese culture — a culture I have always loved and been fascinated by. I never envisaged this would cause distress to anyone as this is the last thing I would ever want to do.”
Corley’s statement appears to be corroborated by a recent comment on her Facebook page, which reads:
“I just read the Age article about your show, and I’m shocked. From a Japanese perspective, I’m happy that you love our culture. I love comedy. If your show is back on, I would bring as many Japanese friends who live here as possible!!! You are a victim of bullying and a culture that creates victims when there are none. Sending much love to you. Cultural exchange is not a crime.”
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