In a play from 1885, put on by a society dedicated to keeping these shows alive, accusations of racism have appeared where someone might normally see a show review.
According to Seattle Times’ Sharon Pian Chan:
“The Mikado” is the same shtick, different race. A black wig and white face powder stand in for shoeshine. Bowing and shuffling replaces tap dancing. Fans flutter where banjos would be strummed.
“The Mikado” is the latest production being put on by the Gilbert & Sullivan Society. It’s the ninth time the society has performed the play, the first was in 1955, and it’s the sixth time Dave Ross has had a part in the production.
All 40 Japanese characters are being played by white actors, including two Latinos. KIRO radio host Dave Ross is in the cast. It’s yellowface, in your face.
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The highly satirical and insulting (to some powerful people in the UK in 1885) opera was set in Japan, not to insult Japanese but to give W.S. Gilbert more room to be satirical and insulting. It was a common device in those days, when freedom of speech did not exist as it does today (although the UK was more tolerant than the continent at the time).
Plays and operas that might conceivably cause offence where often set in distant or even imaginary places.
On the other hand, we are free to insult powerful politicians today but we are being choked to death by political correctness.