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Subject: More on HGO's Nixon in China casting
From: William Albright <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:William Albright <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 1 Apr 2017 15:09:24 -0500

text/plain (116 lines)

15 things that'll happen when Houston talks about Asians in the arts

By Wei-Huan Chen <>
March 30, 2017 Updated: March 30, 2017 6:00am








[image: Houston Grand Opera's production of "Nixon in China." Patrick
Carfizzi, left, portrays an evil Chinese landlord with a Fu Manchu
mustache. Photo: Lynn Lane / Lynn Lane]
Photo: Lynn Lane
Houston Grand Opera's production of "Nixon in China." Patrick Carfizzi,
left, portrays an evil Chinese landlord with a Fu Manchu mustache.

This Friday, Houston Grand Opera and the Asia Society host a talk on Asian
representation in the arts. The panel is, essentially, a response to my
HGO’s production of “Nixon in China,” in which I criticized the opera for
yellowface and stereotypical portrayals of Chinese people.

The review drew countless reactions. Houston-based music educator Sherry
Cheng wrote a rebuttal
Dallas Morning News opera critic Scott Cantrell made a similar argument
And emotional comments regarding race and representation poured into
Facebook, Twitter and my flooded inbox.

The HGO/Asia Society panel features, among others, Director for the Center
for Arts and Social Engagement at the University of Houston Sixto Wagan;
Houston Asian American Pacific Islander Film Festival Co-Director Steven
Wu; and HGO music and artistic director Patrick Summers. It’s an excellent
move by both organizations to keep the conversation about inclusion alive,
and public, but the jury’s still out on whether the city will have the
proper reckoning on Asian representation — or lack thereof — that it

The panel might be productive and interesting. It might not. I will attend
with high hopes and bated breath because conversations are, by nature,

   1. The audience will be majority white.
   2. On the topic of diversity, people will talk about how good their
   organizations are with diversity.
   3. No one will criticize anyone.
   4. People will be confused about the definition of yellowface.
   5. Someone will ask, “If ‘Hamilton’ cast actors of color to play white
   people, why can’t white actors play people of color?”
   6. In defense of casting, someone will make the “because opera”
   argument. In defense of stereotypes, someone will make the “because
   history” argument.
   7. Someone will cite Sherry Cheng’s column. They will secretly think
   “Look, an Asian isn’t offended so it must not be offensive” but will not
   actually say it out loud.
   8. The line “Houston is the most diverse city in America” will be used
   at least three times.
   9. The line “more relevant now than ever before” will be used at least
   five times.
   10. The panelists will hesitate to talk about someone who isn’t on the
   stage, and so instead of using my name will say “a reviewer,” “The
   Chronicle” or “a critic.”
   11. Someone will inevitably reference Donald Trump.
   12. The entire evening will essentially be a debate on the “point” of
   art, embodying two schools of thought: The Art of the Sublime and the Art
   of the Society. The Sublime folks, believing that art is universal and
   preferring “classic” works, will argue that art should transcend the
   politics of identity. The Society folks, believing that art is personal and
   preferring “relevant” works, will argue that art should speak to the
   politics of identity.
   13. During the Q-and-A, someone will have a long, indulgent rant. No one
   will cut them off.
   14. The first time people actually speak their minds will be after the
   event, with friends and family, on the drive home or over drinks.
   15. Ultimately, no one will change their mind. But for a precious
   moment, they'll be challenged to think outside their experience. And
   instead of shouting, they'll listen.

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