From Iceland — Icelandic Opera Accused of "Yellowface"

Icelandic Opera Accused of “Yellowface”

Published March 9, 2023

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The Icelandic Opera is coming under fire from people of Asian descent in Iceland, who accuse the company of using “yellowface” in its production of Madama Butterfly, Ví reports.

The play primarily features white Icelandic actors and singers who have been made up to appear Asian. Violinist Laura Liu was the first to highlight the issue on her Facebook page, accusing the opera of using makeup to make white Icelanders appear Asian. Other people of Asian descent have since joined the criticism, with Yuka Ogura, CEO of Alljost Entertainment, pointing out that the script used in the show’s set appears to be Chinese, not Japanese.

Daniel Roh, a teacher and stand-up artist of Asian descent living in Iceland, also spoke up, writing an op-ed criticising the production and calling for change. He argues that “yellowface” is harmful and perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Daniel is organising a protest outside Harpa, where the performance is being staged, on March 11 at 18:30.

In response to Laura’s Facebook post, Madama Butterfly director and set designer Michiel Dijkema denies there is discrimination afoot. “We have not attempted to change skin color or shape of the eyes to make the singers look Japanese, but we have used elements from theatre makeup of Japanese theatre forms such as ‘Noh’ and ‘Kabuki,'” he wrote.

However, this has been criticised by Daniel, who claims Michiel lacks the understanding and experience to comment on such a complex topic.

Madama Butterfly has received state funding and Roh argues that the state should not support a production that perpetuates a racist narrative.

This controversy highlights the issue of representation in the arts and the importance of diversity and inclusion. The use of “yellowface” may perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to a lack of representation of people of Asian descent in the arts. It is important for arts organizations to consider diversity and representation when casting and staging productions, and to listen to and respond to criticism from marginalized communities.

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