"This Is the Hour" — A Protestor, Cast Member and Blogger Weigh In On Boycott of Miss Saigon

By Carey Purcell
11 Oct 2013

Orville Mendoza, who plays The Engineer in Ordway's Miss Saigon

"I would argue that if you reverse the racial pairing — if you had a 17-year-old white Minnesota girl who's forced into prostitution, and she had an encounter with a John who's an occupying soldier, and she said they had fallen in love in one night — less than one night, actually — would people buy that plot?" Mura said. "Or would they say that this is an example of sexual and economic exploitation of a minor? It would probably end up a Lifetime original film talking about how dastardly the foreign soldier was."

Erin Quill, an Asian-American actress whose stage credits include Avenue Q and And the Earth Moved, examined the controversy in a lengthy blog post, saying, "I mean, if you are going to protest based on the perception that the show in question portrays women in a negative light, you can feel free to do that, but picking just ONE show to protest based on women's issues is…you know, discriminatory. What are you saying? Asian prostitutes in a show are ‘bad', but you have no opinion on Caucasian Prostitutes or Latin Prostitutes or African American Prostitutes?"

Orville Mendoza, who plays the Engineer in the Ordway production of Miss Saigon, also weighed in on the portrayal of sex trafficking in the musical, describing it as a framing device for the plot. "The unfortunate reality is that human trafficking and prostitution exists today. We're portraying it as a statement of fact — that this exists and existed at that time...The way prostitution and sex trafficking is presented is not a glorification of it whatsoever. It's merely a framing device to tell you the specific world that we are dealing with."

Mura also mentioned objections with the musical's portrayal of Asian men in comparison to the white soldiers from the United States, saying, "The white males — yes, they're flawed, but they're all clearly portrayed as morally superior and more sexually attractive than any of the Vietnamese men, which is another in a long line of stereotyping which sees the white occupying colonialized forces as being morally superior and sexually more attractive to the native women than any native men.

Erin Quill

"I think the other thing that people don't understand is the reason why the pairing of a white male and an Asian female, so constant in our culture, goes back to the history of imperialism, where the West was looked at as the masculine, and therefore superior power, and the countries of Asia were looked at as feminine, and therefore inferior and incapable of ruling themselves," Mura added. "This motif of the masculine superior West ruling over the feminine inferior East was reinforced by the pairing of white military men with native Asian women. It repeats itself over and over in culture."

The decision of Asian-American actors to perform in Miss Saigon has also met with criticism, and Mura commented on the choice, sharing his personal opinion, which he said was not a statement of policy by the Coalition. "I do understand that, since I have a number of friends who are Asian-American actors — your roles are limited, and certainly leading roles in Broadway musicals for Asian Americans are limited. But as an Asian-American actress friend who was talking to one of the interviewers said, 'You're a writer. Do you write pornography just so you can make money?'"

Quill also commented on the casting in her blog, writing, "Let me tell you something- and this is as straight as I can say it — Asian American Actors can take ANY part they choose. Period. The End. Asian American Actors are under NO obligation to make Asian America 'comfortable' with their personal choices. We do not stand over your shoulder at your job and tell you that you cannot do it, merely because it is our opinion that it should not be done. Asian American Actors can use accents. Asian American Actors can play Pimps, Doctors, Prostitutes, Deli Owners, Thieves, Kings, and whatever else there is out there. We audition and people hire us. And if we can perform, on Broadway, or on a Television show, or in a Feature film, where it is so competitive even to get a a callback — then YOU, Mr. Joe Protestor, are not allowed to rob us of our right to do it to the highest possible level we can. THAT is what Equality means TO US. That our choices are unlimited."