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Say a 17-year-old white Minnesota girl was forced into prostitution, then claimed she’d fallen in love in one night with a john who is a soldier from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia or North Korea. Would your average Minnesotan believe this? Or would they label it for what it is — the sexual and economic exploitation of a minor?
By reducing its portrayal of Vietnamese women to a brothel, “Miss Saigon” reinforces the stereotype of Asian women as prostitutes, as symbols of submissive, ever-available sexuality. At a recent forum on “Miss Saigon,” Asian American women spoke of how such stereotypes negatively affect the way they are treated.
“Miss Saigon” treats Vietnamese men no better. In its portrayal of a pimp and a North Vietnamese colonel, “Miss Saigon” promotes the stereotype of Asian men as unlovable, venal and brutal toward women.
Such portrayals are steeped in the history of colonialism. As in “Miss Saigon,” the white male occupying forces are always morally superior to and more sexually attractive than the native colonized men.
“Miss Saigon” re-uses the “Madama Butterfly” plot that celebrates a Japanese woman’s suicide over a white lover. The first message: All Asians think and act alike. The second: Asians are obsessed with suicide and do not value life.
As an Asian American, I’ve grown up with these stereotypes. I don’t need the Ordway’s “Miss Saigon” to discuss their toxic effects. What I need is for them to stop.
Twin Cities writer David Mura is a member of the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon coalition.