Scottish Opera Withdraws British Award Nomination for ‘Nixon in China’ After ‘Yellowface’ Criticism

Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera, Scotland’s national opera company, officially withdrew its nomination for a South Bank Sky Arts Award after being criticized for using “yellowface” in its 2020 production of John Adam’s “Nixon in China.”

The criticism: Several advocacy groups and social media users called out Scottish Opera for its portrayal of some of the play’s East Asian characters, South China Morning Post reported.

  • Sarah Owen, a Scottish Member of Parliament, tweeted several questions on June 11 about “Nixon in China,” addressing topics such as the lack of ESEA (East and Southeast Asian) cast members and the use of exaggerated winged eye makeup.

  • Beats, an advocacy organization founded by British ESEA community members from the theater and screen industries, called out the production for “yellowface.” The organization’s statement also declared the practice to be “a degrading form of cultural appropriation that dehumanizes those it claims to represent.”
  • Some have pointed out that a Black singer should not have been cast for the part of Nixon, but British composer and baritone Julian Chou-Lambert argued that opera is “a traditionally white-dominated world, so casting qualified minority actors is a plus for representation and we support that.”

Withdrawal and apology: Scottish Opera announced its withdrawal and also apologized on Twitter for the misrepresentation “caused by the stage make-up,” one example being the portrayal of China’s Chairman Mao Zedong.

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  • Sky Arts supported Scottish Opera’s decision and apologized for “the offense caused by the nomination,” Daily Mail reported.
  • However, unnamed sources said having an entirely Chinese and East Asian cast would be “impractical” and would “kill off any future productions of the highly-rated show.”
  • “This controversy will make it very hard to stage this opera in the West because it requires a large Chinese cast,” a source told The Daily Telegraph.

A Houston Grand Opera production of “Nixon in China” also received criticism in 2017 for casting a white actor to play an Asian character.

Featured Image via Scottish Opera

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