Icelandic actor Arnar Dan Kristjánsson announced Thursday that he will not wear a wig or eye paint at the next performance of Madama Butterfly, Vísir.is reports. Arnar Dan’s announcement on social media is the latest development in the controversy swirling around the Icelandic Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, which has been accused of employing “yellowface” in its makeup, costuming and set design.
Arnar Dan wrote on Facebook that he has taken cultural studies and is aware of the hurtful and insensitive nature of using makeup and costumes to impersonate another race. He felt compelled to speak up in response to the public discussion around the production.
The need for debate
Since premiering March 4, the Icelandic Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly has been the subject of controversy, with accusations of racism and cultural insensitivity. The production features mainly white actors and singers who have been made up to appear Asian. Violinist Laura Liu of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra was among those who criticised the performance. She accused the opera of “yellowface” and disrespecting Asian cultural heritage.
The debate about the production sparked a wider discussion about the role of public performing arts organisations in 2023, especially when it comes to issues of inclusion and representation. Arnar Dan Kristjánsson called for a broad conversation on the subject, arguing that performing arts should engage with their local environment and ask pressing questions.
One small step
Arnar Dan’s decision not to wear makeup and wig can be seen as a step towards greater sensitivity and awareness in the performing arts. As the actor himself explained, we live in an age of multiculturalism and it is incumbent on each generation to find creative ways to study humanity. In this context, performing arts should not be static but should reflect the contemporary and changing world.
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