Screenshot of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” from another high school production on youtube.
Thanks to Mia Wenjen for covering this topic so thoroughly on her blog, I Love Newton.
“Thoroughly Modern Millie” was a musical film from 1967. It included a subplot about a hotel proprietor who dresses in yellowface and two nefarious Chinese henchmen. It was developed into a musical 33 years later, and the racist subplot remained intact.
I was somewhat surprised that anybody would consider a remake of a dated movie to be a good idea, especially given the racism. Of course, we’re only too familiar that white people find a great deal of entertainment in racism. The entertainment value is often used as a defense of racism: “But it was only meant in good fun!”
If you do a brief web search, you’ll find that “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is a popular choice for high school theatrical groups. Undoubtedly because it’s so much fun. Newton North High School chose it for its spring production. Newton (MA) is predominately (82%) white, with an 11% Asian American population. And although concerns were voiced before the musical was staged, it proceeded as planned. Although a note about the “stereotypes” was listed in the program guide, apparently. On page 49.
It’s been my general experience that when white people are confronted with their racism, they rarely will completely abandon the racist endeavor. This is because they have too much invested in both the endeavor and the racism.