I’ve been thinking…
… can anyone explain to me why all the horror about ‘Passionate Takarazuka!’? I mean, yes, the blackface looks pretty ridiculous, but not really more ridiculous than the orangeface in ‘Nova Bossa Nova’ and I don’t remember people announcing they wouldn’t be able to bear…
Note: I have NOT seen Passionate Takarazuka yet so I can’t say anything specifically for or against that show so I’ll just talk about it in general.
My gut reaction to it is “please don’t” but that’s because I was raised in a country where you have people of color who can portray themselves. You don’t need people of other races painting themselves to try to portray a character who is a certain race. Takarazuka, on the other hand, doesn’t have that ability since all of their actresses are Japanese. Therefore if they want to portray a character of a another race then someone’s putting on skin color altering makeup (in fact 95% of the time they’re doing makeup to alter their skin color and facial characteristics to look like white people so they’re kind of doing this all the time if you think about it).
My issue with it, however, comes in when the character than plays to racial stereotypes. Sometimes they do it for laughs (which is NEVER okay) but most of the time it happens because whoever decided on how that character should act simply didn’t realize that what they are doing is offensive. As most everyone knows Japan is a very homogenous society and the typical person has very, very little contact with people of other races so sometimes they don’t realize that how they’re portraying a character of color is bordering on cartoonish because they’ve never met someone of that race or actually observed them in real life (actresses will often try to find people similar to whom they’re about to play and watch how they move, act, and speak and try to mimic that later). So if their source material ends up being riddled with stereotypes and they have no real life examples around to help correct those stereotypes, sometimes you end up with a performance that can be very much not okay, even though the person who decided on how that character could act didn’t mean to be offensive.
When this occurs I sit in the audience and wish they’d stop trying to portray characters of color but on the other hand I kind of would like them to continue to have characters of color in their shows, but to also understand that you don’t have to play those characters in a stereotypical fashion. I would love to see more shows with characters of color on the stage, not to be there for laughs or to portray a super “exotic” character, but rather to show that the world is a diverse place and we can all live together peacefully. Plus it would give a more accurate portrayal of the other countries most of the shows are set in. I mean, how many shows have been set in American cities but you only ever see “white” characters walking around on stage? I wouldn’t mind having a show set in California where the requisite old couple who show up in the background to dance together sweetly during a turning point in the show’s romance to be a couple of color. I think that would send an important message to the audience and I think just simple things like that would help audience members who don’t get exposed to other races in their everyday lives be more accepting and I think if they saw more characters of color acting like “normal people” (rather than being played as cartoon type characters) it would do a lot to change some of those racial stereotypes that still persist in Japan.
There is a huge negative history associated with “black face” that makes it very difficult to watch on stage. Not that orange face and white face are any better, but they don’t have the same oppressive history that black face does. I do approve of trying to diversify stories and characters, it’s just as zukarevue said currently there is too much reliance on what are very often actually negative stereotypes.
I haven’t seen Passionate Takarazuka, but if it’s not any worse than NBN well.. then that isn’t exactly a glowing recommendation. Don’t get me wrong I love NBN, but I can’t even begin to list everything that is wrong with it. As a hispanic person, while I am glad to have my race portrayed on stage, more often than not it is a in stereotypical way and fetishized.
[tw for blackface, links to images/video of blackface, anti-Japanese racist slur in one link, mentions of the Holocaust, discussion of brownface, I think that covers everything but if you’re worried abt being triggered maybe err on the side of caution]
Okay. So, the very first thing I want to say is relatively semantic: there are so many Black and brown people living in Japan, especially in the large cities. You would never know it, from the way that Japan is represented in its own media and by the west, the latter because most Western reporting is by expats and/or Japanese pop culture enthusiasts with tunnel vision. Many of black&brown folk in Japan, based on my personal impression because I can’t find statistics on this and welcome any anyone CAN find, tend to be actual immigrants who are not in the (vast-majority white American/Australian/European) expat circles, and also because those expat circles tend to be very fetishistic and only respond to/notice/talk about the parts of Japan that fit their preconceived images. (To be sure, Japan’s minority population is very small: quick Wikipedia search says 1.6% are resident aliens, and about 70% of those are collectively Chinese, Korean, Filipino, or Brazilian – though, for that matter, many Brazilians are dark-skinned and consider themselves Afro-Latina. However, these numbers DON’T reflect or include naturalized citizens, and the census does not record ethnic breakdown of the population, only citizenship; this means especially immigrants of color will be disproportionately downplayed in these numbers.) So yeah, by national breakdown, the percentage of Black and brown people might be low, but this is still a country that is more than capable of hiring Black actresses, – there are probably more Black people than white, and DEFINITELY more Black people that can speak fluent Japanese than white – and yet somehow the media trots out white or half-white people by the truckful reading things off phonetically to advertise and make cameos in and represent their race in pretty much anything. I strongly believe it is a shared myth based on faulty accounting that there is such a small percentage of Black people in Japan that they can’t possibly be found, hired, and paid for the VERY few roles that call for Black characters; and unless someone can give me some numbers to counteract my personal experiences in Japan (I haven’t been able to find numbers myself, see the above census problem, and in the absence of that data rely on my personal experience rather than others’), there is absolutely nothing to support it.
Another observation: There have been a number of half-white Takarasiennes, and a smaller number of half-Chinese and half-Korean Takarasiennes. I think either I or the company will be dead and buried before Takarazuka admits a half-Black student. Maybe that’s because not a lot of Black or non-passing girls apply. Maybe that’s because not a lot of them have parents that have enough old money or access to the right social circles to actually get their daughters in. Or maybe that’s in no small part because of what those daughters see on the stage, and what that tells them about their chances of being admitted. Maybe that’s in no small part because of what they see on the stage, and whether or not, to them, this is a world of dreams.
I acknowledge that this is slightly semantic re actual casting logistics: given the nature of casting in a hierarchical, closed theater company, this fact doesn’t overshadow the issue that even if the company had Black, brown, etc actresses, that still wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem of casting specific roles. But I think it’s a really, really, REALLY dangerous idea to go from that, to “That’s because in Japan, hiring a Black actress isn’t possible!” It is. Takarazuka’s casting system makes it difficult for that to matter when casting roles, and so maybe the company should acknowledge that flaw in the system and abandon the project of racially typecast roles.
Which brings us to a point I hear a lot on the subject of blackface in Takarazuka. It’s Japan! It’s not America! Blackface is only offensive in America, and that’s ONLY because of its history/kneejerk reflex on the part of Americans, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with racially typecast roles performed in blackface! Surely that means it gets a pass and there is nothing whatsoever racist, hurtful, or antiblack in Takarazuka’s blackface, right? Or if there is, it’s just because they don’t know any better, right?
The second excuse is so condescending I won’t even touch it. (There are plenty of people who say they don’t know better, mind you. They live everywhere. They are, without exception, lying through their teeth. They engage in blackface specifically to dehumanize, degrade, and mock black people, and when called out on it claim ignorance assuming, often correctly, that their white privilege will literally shield them from ramifications and grant them plausible deniability on behavior that should count as hate crimes. It’s not an excuse.)
For those who say blackface is only offensive in America: it is not. Even if we accept the inaccurate assumption that blackface is ONLY offensive if you can draw a straight historical line from contemporary blackface to historical minstrelsy THAT originated from slavery, it’s STILL not true. Many famous blackface acts went on European tours, particularly blackface acts performed by black people, who were treated in Europe as weird novelties (which was still, according to material actors like Ada Overton Walker wrote about their trips, a better flavor of dehumanization than what they got at home, where their tours often involved literal risk to their lives). Europe engaged in and financially supported the institution of blackface minstrelsy. Many European countries continue to defend practices of blackface, but that is NOT because blackface is not offensive there, or does not have a history that links DIRECTLY to the triangle slave trade, the sugar plantations, the cultural and legal disenfranchisement and dehumanization of Black people in Europe, and DIRECT support of both slavery in America and cultural endorsement of the art forms of the Jim Crow era. If Europeans aren’t raised to have the same recoil reaction, I suspect it’s because there is a lower non-white population that is capable of calling the white populations’ minstrel bullshit out.
And as for “blackface provides more representation for black people”, or “blackface creates empathy for viewers and blackface performers” … no.
Blackface is NOT representation of black people. Nobody in any minstrel show audiences has EVER thought they’re seeing representation – though, historically, white minstrel show audiences sure have said they think of it that way! That’s why they used to insist (and white people on youtube comments still insist!) minstrel shows displayed “African” or African-American culture, when at very best, as with things like cakewalks, they actively appropriated historical forms of slave resistance and mockery of white culture and instead turned it around as a way of mocking slaves for their “ignorance.” Nobody PERFORMING thinks what’s happening is diverse representation – how could they? A nonblack performer gets a role saying “black up, you’re playing a black manservant or shoeshine!” and she thinks “Aha, this shall become black representation on my stage”?
Blackface dehumanizes, in part, because it reduces people to visual stereotypes linked to a bastardized version of what is PERCEIVED to be that group’s culture or behavior, AND THEN MARKETS, OFFERS FOR CONSUMPTION, AND PROFITS FROM those stereotypes and that bastardized culture. It destroys the integrity of what little it does steal from actual black culture; it then tacks on a whole lot of bullshit made to deliberately dehumanize and insult its read on that culture; it creates some things wholecloth that it then packages as genuine; and finally, it divorces all of that from actual black people. (This is why people were upset about Miley Cyrus’ appropriation of twerking: paraphrasing what many black women have said before and better than me, what she did at the VMAs WAS a minstrel show and took a subversive dance form meant partially as a diasporic expression and turned it into something that automatically associated that dance with sexuality (which was/is NOT all twerking is about), mocked the oversexed-ness she herself had projected onto it, and then divorced it from black people, making it something black women do supposedly out of oversexed primitiveness and white women can do with clever ironic “feminist distance.”)
Bastardized, stereotype-riddled “culture" projected onto blackness for sales that removes black people from the equation is racist, and it does not humanize. Ever.
Blackface, by its very nature, inherently insists upon the possibility of representing and consuming blackness without the need for actual black people. That is dehumanizing. It is the root, symbol, and metonym for the quote that I think originally came from twitter user @freshestmhizha: “Black culture is popular. Black people are not.”
This extends to other races and cultures as well, of course: brownface is an issue in Takarazuka as well, as it is everywhere; America and Europe have problems with yellowface; just about every nonwhite culture and ethnicity is target and victim to the same overall practice. But it is universally harshest against Black people, and the technique was perfected during blackface minstrelsy, and it is VERY important to center an awareness of that.
As for the idea that blackface creates “empathy.”
I’m gonna drop a bit of knowledge here, so that maybe anyone reading this can actually look at this, and if they want to continue even conditionally defending blackface, at least can’t say they don’t know what that means, or what it is they are endorsing. I am not an expert or a historian on this subject, but being an American musical theater and vaudeville enthusiast means sooner or later confronting your fair share of blackface, and learning your fair share about how minstrelsy informed the musical as an art form. It means learning about how Americans LOVED seeing “African culture” performed on the stage – to make fun of it, or, as they sometimes claimed retroactively, to “appreciate” it. Go to YouTube and search Al Jolson: 90% of the comments are white people insisting that Jolson was “helping promote African music and art” by wearing blackface and “bringing it to a wider audience” – never mind that I don’t think ANY of his acts were actually written by Black writers, and that, if any of the songs happened to be authentic, maybe they had not been written dreaming of the day white people could consume them while completely appropriating and disemboweling their original context, meaning, form, and all while paying nothing to the actual creators.
How much empathy for black people do you think minstrelsy created among its white audience?
Here are some anecdotes about blackface minstrelsy in America:
- There was a famous anecdote of a white blackface minstrel performer who was pulled off the stage by an angry slaveowner who INSISTED that he was his runaway slave. The actor and audience thought this so hilarious they ran with the joke, and the actor allowed himself to be “recaptured” and taken back home, whereupon he asked to bathe. Upon washing himself the black cork came off and it became clear he was white, and therefore was allowed to be set free. He recounted this story many times – as proof of the absurd perspective of slaveowners, who could not tell that level of obscene caricature from real black people? As proof that blackface not only perpetuated but also came from, and in instances like this, terrifyingly reflected, the lens through which white people saw Black people at that time? No. As proof that his act was authentic. He felt no empathy for a possible Black minstrel performer, who might similarly be taken in on preposterously and obviously false charges, and never be freed. (This anecdote and the point about lack of empathy are from Eric Lott’s book Love and Theft, which remains the authoritative starting point if you want to seriously study the history/continued semiotics of blackface.)
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the first majorly successful feature-length musical in the American repertoire. The Ameican Musical books rarely cover this. The actor playing, certainly not the first, but one of the relatively early Uncle Toms, got the following observation from the New York Daily Times: “It seemed almost certain he could not be well given. He would either be a camp-meeting preacher, and overdo the matter, or he would be so ignorant as to make his religious sentiments ridiculous. In such a place as the National [Theater], Uncle Tom’s piety must be travestied.
His very first words, however, showed that a good hand had the part. The accent, a broad and natural negro accent, but the voice deep and earnest—so earnest, that the first laugh at his n[*****, originally uncensored] words, from the pit, died away in deep stillness.”
- Let me paraphrase that review: the author did not think it possible to portray the character of Uncle Tom onstage, because a Black character onstage was inherently laughable (this is before Uncle Tom devolved, over the course of the Tom plays, from a portrayal of the character in the book to an increasingly simple, cartoonish archetype whose chief characteristics amounted to the literal opposite of everything he was in the book; I don’t pretend Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a paragon of flawless humanity here, for the record, but if you ever want to know how the character went from one white woman’s honest and at the time very bold attempt to portray a Black man as Christlike to the stereotype today, minstrel shows of that book are how it happened and if you read the surviving paper trail you can actually see the transformation in action).
- Irene Dunn, Judy Garland, and Fred Astaire, presented without comment except to say especially in the first two clips, blackface is a technique both white characters use as a tool to further their professional ambitions; in Show Boat, which is a deeply flawed attempt to critique race relations in the Jim Crow era, it is important to note the character who performs in blackface ultimately gets a lead role because the current lead is revealed to be part-black, meaning she is fired.
- Meanwhile, actual Black blackface performers were in constant actual danger of their lives when on tour. The crew of Shuffle Along, one of the biggest early American musical hits, had to travel in vans because they were not allowed to sleep in inns or hotels in most towns they visited; the musicians, like all Black orchestral musicians of the time, had to play without any sheer music, because Black musicians were believed to play spontaneously because of “natural/inherent” Black “rhythm,” and so had to memorize the entirety of Eubie & Blake’s brilliant score. This anecdote I got from a book on Shuffle Along I forget the name of, but in general there are a lot of books and articles that touch on the history of that musical that are well worth looking through.
- I do not think it ever occured that a minstrel show had a mixed-race cast, that is, white minstrel performers would not perform in shows with Black minstrel performers (although Black minstrel performers were allowed to be hired to do gags and small bits in larger shows in which white actors played white roles). Black musicals started to be performed when the Black minstrel performers, like Williams & Walker, gained enough clout to just start writing and producing their own.
Blackface created no empathy in the white actors who performed it and they felt no connection with the black people in their own craft, let alone in general, because at the end of the day, they took the blackface off and went home, and the black actors got into vans and hoped they did not get killed on their way into the next town.
Plenty of those actors knew black people “in real life”: these stereotypes are not about who you interact with, it what’s you take away and what you see. There is no WAY any Takarasienne has not met a Black person “in real life”. And even if they hadn’t, that is COMPLETELY MOOT to how blackface as an acting technique to perpetuate certain images and which teaches you certain ways of reading and projecting onto real human behavior if the person you’re looking at is Black, operates.
For her last day in Takarazuka, extremely popular top star Sena Jun’s retirement parade included all the members of the troupe, and herself, in party “Afro” wigs. She said in an interview at the time that the Afro wigs were in honor of President Barack Obama’s election in America. I know that Asako is really popular, both in Japan and here; I really liked her performance in Ernest in Love in 2006. This is not a personal attack on Asako. However: at the same time: I will let those two facts speak for themselves. You cannot pretend that the Afros were just ~party gear: she made it clear she was aware this was, in her mind, a way of delineating Blackness. Tell me again how the Afro wigs siennes wear in blackface and brownface scenes in their musicals educated her and made her understand diversity in the world. (For the record, this was her repertoire this year. The chirashi strategically lighted everyone to make the blackface hard to see or ambivalent; this is what it looked like without PR lighting tricks.)
As others have pointed out before me, Takarazuka is capable of delineating race without blackface proper. (Whether they should do this is meta for another day, and probably a discussion I, as neither a Japanese nor a Black person, probably shouldn’t have a huge, if any, say in.) In some of their less offensive/plausible deniability moments, actresses have used a foundation shade a bit darker than what they usually use – but, and for me this is key, no darker or more unusually-featured than what they traditionally use to portray white characters like Rhett Butler – as Toono Asuka did for her character in My Dear New Orleans (though other actresses in that same play went with wholesale blackface) or Ichijou Azusa did for her character, who I don’t know if he had any particular designated race, in Ocean’s 11; or, better yet, though I don’t think this has ever been done, it can simply be observed at the start of the play. Takarazuka, then, is MORE THAN CAPABLE of depicting race in this way: it actively chooses, instead, to draw from blackface visuals.
And it does draw from blackface visuals. The oversized lips, coal-black, unrealistic skin coloring, white highlights on the eyes, and exaggerated Afros for men and ribboned picaninny hair for women are all hallmarks of traditional minstrel show technique – I won’t even bother linking to anything, literally google image this – and they don’t materialize from thin air. The only thing that really differs about Takarazuka is sometimes the skin is not coal-black, usually the highlights around the eyes are not pure white and can sometimes pass as just normal eyeshadow, and the lips are usually not as exaggerated as traditional minstrel makeup. That is pretty much it. That does not happen by accident.
I’ll add that even if they somehow stopped doing this, I really want to hit home that random black characters played without this overt connections (which is a moot point, because this won’t happen, and it’s giving the company way too much credit to pretend that’s an innocent mistake), it still wouldn’t fix anything: it. would. present. black characters divorced from Black people playing them, and that perpetuates a dehumanizing wresting of blackness from Black people.
In America, it is impossible to divorce the formation of blackface from the history of slavery and mass human trafficking, forced exodus, and genocide of the triangle slave trade. And – not but, AND – minstrelsy as a form, having been created, can never – can NEVER – be divorced from the circumstances of its birth. So clear is this that even America, that bastion of systematic racism and slavery, has never made a serious effort to reupholster it and sell it to us in the mainstream again. Even America feels shame when asked to look at blackface, and America is barely even ashamed of slavery itself.
Blackface cannot be divorced from that history because, at the end of the day, what makes blackface offensive is not how it came to be: it was and is offensive because it created, reinforced, and fed back images, ideas, and logistics of black representation and affected the way black people were thought of, and treated, in the real world by real white people who had real structural power. That? Is something blackface and minstrelsy will perpetuate and renew, regardless of where it is being performed, regardless of when it is being performed, and regardless of whether the person performing it – like many of the blackface performers linked above, from Al Jolson to Judy Garland – ~knows about the history or not.
When you look at blackface over time you see the overt techniques of dehumanization fade into things that, for each decade, had more plausible deniability, but the patterns remained. Once you see those patterns over time you start to notice them when they appear, slightly adulterated or disguised, in contemporary culture – even if the writer doesn’t consciously know where they came from, which is not always the case no matter what they say, even if they only picked them up subconsciously, from the haunted pool of collective memory – when you see the history, it is still and specifically painful to see that history sustained.
Do your research. Really look at the images and hear the songs. Did you know there was a woman, in the 1920s, who was dubbed the “female Charlie Chaplin” and had comparable following to him? No? She has been erased from history, not actually because of misogyny, but because her signature act was a particularly picaninny interpretation of Topsy, the character from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Here is her act. (tw obviously for blackface, but also anti-Japanese slur.)
Did any of you see Gone With The Wind last December? Do you remember the bit where Prissy introduces Belle? The joke, in that exchange, is that Prissy does not know how to properly introduce someone, and makes a series of verbal (rather than written) malapropisms – something which, by the way, has virtually no comic history in Japan and which I have never seen in another Zuka play; that style of humor DOES have a minstrelsy history, however. What a coincidence. Prissy is chastised and runs off screaming. In other scenes, Prissy is physically reprimanded (breaking this down would become its own post, and has become quite a number of published books; it’s part of a trend of laughing at pain inflicted particularly on Black children (there was a literal children’s book ARCHETYPE ending in black children being eaten by alligators, so much that, like watermelon, alligators became and actual stereotype with minstrelsy/Jim Crow associations), which was actively and consciously meant to instill in viewers that Black children did not feel or even enjoyed pain, and which has literal, scientifically-proven effects on white people’s perception of Black versus white pain to this day), and in others, she displays a preposterously childlike fear of lightning. The dialogue breakdown in that exchange breaks down EXACTLY like a Topsy And Aunt Ophelia sketch, which was its own genre of minstrel short, which can be seen in film adaptations like this one (note 1:21), which, believe it or not, this film is considered one of the most humanized representations of the character of Topsy. Remember how Prissy is styled in the Takarazuka version? Pay attention to how Topsy looks in that clip. I don’t care if they were basing it off the film: that’s where the film got it. This is something the Takarazuka company revives almost once a year. That is not something to awkwardly hem at, make a PR “well, that’s not so great but…” statement about, and brush under the rug. At the very least, face it for what it is. Really, really look at that clip above, and really, really let it sink in: this. is what. the company. is doing. Do not ignore it. Do not minimize it. Do not stop looking until you have really acknowledged it for what it is.
Forget Passionate Takarazuka. It’s just your standard Takarazuka brownface/blackface revue, which systematically sexualizes people of color and their entire cultures, and features a bunch of hairpieces (handmade, by the way, as all wigs and accessories in Takarazuka are) by prominent actresses. (Note that I’ve been talking about blackface exclusively, for reasons mentioned above, but let’s not forget that, most notably and famously in NBN but in virtually every “orange revue”, Central and South American culture is bastardized, exoticized, rolled into one, and portrayed as idle, hypersexual, and criminal-ridden; so are most plays and scenes set in China and the Middle East/South Asia.)
Let’s talk about Lost Glory, because no one has. Let’s talk about how it takes the story of OTHELLO, whitewashes the entire cast to the point where the main objections to the Othello characters’ marriage to Desdemona is that he is new rather than old money, and is too old for her, and that her parents just generally disapprove, while all the problems are displaced into issues of American xenophobia. Let’s talk about how it then GRATUITOUSLY adds four black characters, performed in blackface. They are: a manservant, his son, a(n idle) shoeshine, and a newspaper vendor. At the end of the play, the manservant thanks the Othello character for employing him: through his employment, he was able to send his son to school. All this. In a play based on Othello.
Let’s talk about how people’s problem with “Congratulations Takarazuka” was the Jesus Christ Superstar number –– a number that paid overt homage to a musical written by a Christian, and which interpreted, not even Jesus, but a Jesus-metaphor character as a sexualized/rock star … which is also something done many many times by Christian authors in Christian-majority cultures and countries, and which is already in the public imagery circulation; or that it featured a nun being seduced by a Jesus metaphor, which, while not a safe issue to be sure or hugely tasteful/respectful of nuns’ vows, is also coming from a country which historically Christians attempted to colonize/mas convert, and is something already long and safely entrenched in Christian literature and philosophy and art and now part of the pop consciousness – and NOT with the gospel “theme,” or the blackface. Or the way the blackface gospel “nun” characters were ALSO, and more overtly, sexualized, wearing colored rosaries around their waists with go-go miniskirt and fishnet interpretation of their nuns’ habits.
Let’s talk about the “American Indian” pair dance in Royal Straight Flush. Let’s talk about the depiction of Kowloon and of Chinese characters in Wataru’s 1999 Tempest. Let’s talk about Maya Miki’s revue which had – Holocaust tw – a stylized song and dance depiction of gas chambers in the Holocaust. This was in the 90s. The end of the Holocast was barely 50 old when that scene was performed.
Let’s talk about Nova Bossa Nova, and the colonial parfait that is its semiotics. Let’s talk about how Takarazuka has glorified, in film and musical and history exhibits, the patriotism of the siennes during WWII, but makes little mention of the historical pro-imperialist propaganda it actively churned out during those years, or the way that imperialism was informed by eugenic and racist ideology. Say what you want about Robertson’s book – there is much of it with which I take issue myself – but at least she did the unsexy, un-clickbaity, no-flashy-gender-taglines legwork no other Western writer has wanted to touch, and really hit the books and called this out. (Her weird paralleling of race with gender was really overwrought and I don’t think accomplished anything other than pointlessly trying to act as if two things are parallel that are intersecting and overlapping, and I also take issue with her subsequent wholesale dismissal of identity politics to the point of disavowing that her positionality as a non-Japanese white woman, regardless of where she grew up, should have any place at all in her mind when she discusses race and gender issues in Japan; but she at least looked the issue in the eye and went for it.)
One last addendum to all that. Yes, most of the characters in Takarazuka plays are meant to be white. That “whiteface” is subject for someone else’s publication, and probably not my place to unpack, but let me share with you a personal anecdote, that, since it ties into issues that are very much mine and very much connect to issues my own culture has with whiteness-versus-“of-color” status.
My first time in Japan, I and a white friend were trying on a Takarazuka-style wig. I was told: “it makes you look even MORE [my ethnicity]!” I laughed at how hideous I looked. I handed it over to my friend. SHE laughed at how hideous she looked. “Oh no, but, you know, in your case, that’s what it’s really meant to look like!” said the others there.
"I went to France and saw a show, obviously it was better than our shows because Europeans have good proportions, and more gorgeous bodies than Japanese." "Broadway shows are better than our shows, of course, because American women, their legs are so long." The one compliment I get on my appearance is on the proportions of my head to my body. I know, firsthand, what it looks like when a culture tries really hard to absorb itself into whiteness, and I know, firsthand, that that very often takes the form of viciously distancing itself from and dehumanizing those who are most actively and historically institutionally barred from it.
The whiteface is aspirational. The blackface and brownface is not.
Thanks, that’s a lot of food for thought. I don’t think I have anything sensible/informative to add, except maybe this:
Takarazuka seems to be constantly exotizing/fetishizing a lot of other cultures - Spanish or Russian as much as Latin American or Chinese. Do you think they do it differently, or it is it a matter of how we see it, I mean, “Please stop exoticizing this culture - it was enslaved/colonized” or “They fetishize everyone whether they’ve been colonized or not”?