The 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has been called everything from a classic to "the most racist movie of all time."
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" is also scheduled to be shown on August 11th at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy as part of SyFy's Movies With A View. We say scheduled to be shown because an online petition is calling for the screening to be cancelled due to a character played by Mickey Rooney that Asian American groups find offensive. Rooney was hired to play an over-the-top Asian man and he did:
Ursula Liang has started an online petition to get the movie pulled. Her petition reads:
On Thursday August 11th, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy with the sponsorship of the SYFY Channel plans to screen "Breakfast at Tiffany's" free for the public. This 1961 film features a blatantly-racist, minstrel-show, buck-toothed portrayal of a Japanese American, played by Mickey Rooney which has for decades offended the Asian-American community and its allies. Please boycott this film, the SyFy Movies with a View series, and let people know that despite direct communication from the NY Asian American community, the BBPC is committed to showing this horribly offensive film, which it calls a "beloved" "American classic". The film series is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
The current online petition has only 213 signatures, but you have to believe this will go viral within a day or two, especially when you consider the Asian population in the NYC metropolitan area. According to a statistic on her petition, 1 in 8 people in the city have Asian roots. And that matters;
Why any publicly funded organization in a city where 1-in-8 residents are Asian-American or any channel with a huge Asian-American viewership would choose to show a film with a racist caricature like this is beyond me. It's not funny; It's not classic; It's not beloved to us. By screening this film, the organizers are sanctioning the racism it contains, and subjecting new audiences (including children and Asian-Americans) to a minstrel show of racist ideology. It's 2011. It's New York. Do we still have to fight the hostile, hurtful world of 1961 Hollywood?
Hollywood in the early 1960s did seem to be supporting stereotyping of Asian Americans as did Madison Avenue. Watch this commercial for Jello from 1960:
Is that offensive and racist? One could easily say "yes!"
Or, how about this scene from an episode of "The Flinstones?"
The debate over "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or any work made in a time when racism or stereotyping was acceptable entertainment is an interesting one. Earlier this year, scholars went back and forth over the newest editions of Mark Twain's 1884 "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" removing the "N" word and "Injun."
So what should be done here? New York Post writer Lou Lumenick offered some clarity on the topic:
I personally think the screening should go forward, but the film's outdated racial attitudes need to be acknowledged and discussed in an introduction.
Mr. Lumenick's idea is one that works to preserve the historical integrity of the film, which recognizing the offensive stereotyping.
Perhaps we all should take a moment and sing along with the Broadway show "Avenue Q" song "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist"
We encourage you to take the poll.
H/T New York Post