(Note: This is an article that I was writing with the intent of submitting into my school newspaper. Here it is posted instead! As you can see, I am more gentle and positive about the topic than I typically might be, with the thought that people in my school would be sensitive to “criticism.”)
Dear [Name of My Highschool],
I’m reluctant to say anything negative about Anything Goes, simply because the school put so much effort into its production. That much is obvious by the practiced perfection of the performance. But because no one seems to be bringing it up, we need to have a brief chat about the racism in it.
Yeah, hopefully you know what I’m talking about. Just in case you need a refresher: two “Chinese” characters, with questionable outfits and even more questionable accents, are mocked throughout the musical and tricked by the protagonists out of their clothes, literally. They are also addicted to gambling.
HAHA! I mean, there’s no way that a Chinese person would possibly be named Plum Blossom, a Japanese name! It’s so ridiculous that it must a joke! Something to laugh at, nothing to take seriously. Right?
Oh, [Highschool], I wish it was so. It’s important to keep in mind that in the 1930s, people actually thought Asians were like that. What is a far-fetched joke to us was a widely-held racist view only a few generations ago. Analyzing Anything Goes actually gives us a great snapshot of the interactions between Asia and the Western world during the 1930s. The mention of missionaries and Evelyn Oakley’s familiarity with China is accurate, considering that there were several British colonies and spheres of influence. The West’s ignorance of Asia (“Indoorchina,” Moonface declares instead of “Indochina”) and exploitation of Asians is, unfortunately, also accurate.
The United States has a long history of discrimination against Asians that often does not receive enough emphasis. Anti-Asian sentiments in the late 1800s were so great that riots and massacres broke out. The Chinese Exclusion Act, one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in history that eventually excluded all East Asians, was not repealed until 1943. Even then, Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps. So, amid all the catchy songs and spectacular dancing, seeing Anything Goes was a sad reminder of discrimination that existed not long ago.
Do not let this make you feel guilty for enjoying or participating in Anything Goes, however. A good fan of any type of media is responsible for acknowledging problematic aspects, yet still allowed to like the material. However, I must say that I heard very few laughs in the audience during a racist gag. In fact, it seemed like most people found “Be Like the Blue Bird” infinitely more hilarious than a joke whose punchline was an entire ethnicity of a billion people! Hmmm.