Title

Sexism and Racism in Madama Butterfly, M. Butterfly and Miss Saigon

Lead Author Major

Psychology

Format

Oral Presentation

Faculty Mentor Name

Macelle Mahala

Faculty Mentor Department

Theatre Arts

Abstract/Artist Statement

The following essay is a literary and cultural analysis of the racist and sexist themes in the 1898 opera Madama Butterfly by the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. The opera is considered an example of Orientalism, which the cultural theorist Edward Saïd describes as “part of the general European effort to rule distant lands and people” (xi). Saïd says that “stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and existence of their own history” (xiii). Madama Butterfly is globally renowned and was the inspiration for a more recent theatrical work, Miss Saigon, a musical set during the Vietnam War that premiered in London in 1989. Despite their popularity, both works have created a great deal of controversy for perpetuating racist and sexist stereotypes. For example, a group of activists have repeatedly protested productions of Miss Saigon in St. Paul, Minnesota, arguing against the depiction of the Asian characters and the glamorization of the sex trade. Others, including the actors in the production, argued that the musical is an attempt at historical accuracy, shedding light on a dark period of history. David Henry Hwang, an Asian American playwright, offered another critique of Madama Butterfly when he wrote a play called M. Butterfly in 1988. M. Butterfly deconstructs Madama Butterfly, revealing the opera's racist and sexist messages while making a political commentary on race relations between western and eastern countries. Madama Butterfly, M. Butterfly and Miss Saigon each show how theatre can be used to perpetuate or challenge racism.

Location

DeRosa University Center, Room 211

Start Date

25-4-2015 2:00 PM

End Date

25-4-2015 4:00 PM

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Apr 25th, 2:00 PM Apr 25th, 4:00 PM

Sexism and Racism in Madama Butterfly, M. Butterfly and Miss Saigon

DeRosa University Center, Room 211

The following essay is a literary and cultural analysis of the racist and sexist themes in the 1898 opera Madama Butterfly by the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. The opera is considered an example of Orientalism, which the cultural theorist Edward Saïd describes as “part of the general European effort to rule distant lands and people” (xi). Saïd says that “stories are at the heart of what explorers and novelists say about strange regions of the world; they also become the method colonized people use to assert their own identity and existence of their own history” (xiii). Madama Butterfly is globally renowned and was the inspiration for a more recent theatrical work, Miss Saigon, a musical set during the Vietnam War that premiered in London in 1989. Despite their popularity, both works have created a great deal of controversy for perpetuating racist and sexist stereotypes. For example, a group of activists have repeatedly protested productions of Miss Saigon in St. Paul, Minnesota, arguing against the depiction of the Asian characters and the glamorization of the sex trade. Others, including the actors in the production, argued that the musical is an attempt at historical accuracy, shedding light on a dark period of history. David Henry Hwang, an Asian American playwright, offered another critique of Madama Butterfly when he wrote a play called M. Butterfly in 1988. M. Butterfly deconstructs Madama Butterfly, revealing the opera's racist and sexist messages while making a political commentary on race relations between western and eastern countries. Madama Butterfly, M. Butterfly and Miss Saigon each show how theatre can be used to perpetuate or challenge racism.