Apparently, there’s a new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical The Mikado up in Seattle (produced by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society) that’s rankled some in the community for its “yellow face” casting—all 40 Japanese characters in the show are played by 38 white actors and 2 Latinos in full-on “Oriental” mode.
In general, it’s almost never OK to do yellow face so if you’re a non-Asian and you’re considering following in the footsteps of the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society,
fuck you just don’t do it. But like all rules, there are a few exceptions and here they are:
1) IF YOU’RE ACTUALLY SATIRIZING OR MAKING FUN OF THE PRACTICE OF YELLOW FACE AND/OR THE IDIOTS BEHIND IT
As a general rule, if you wouldn’t put a white actor in black face in any particular situation, you shouldn’t be OK with putting them in yellow face. However, I can think of at least two recent examples where the use of black face was justified—on a couple of episodes of the NBC series 30 Rock and the Ben Stiller flick Tropic Thunder. In both instances, white actors donned black face but it was to point out the absurdity of the white characters who were doing it in the first place (yes, it’s all very meta). So if you want to do a play or film poking fun at a clueless white theater company in an otherwise diverse city that chooses to put on a production of a play set in Asia with a white cast in yellow face, then this would be OK.