After receiving backlash for misrepresenting Asian narratives, a panel discussion on the Broadway musical “Miss Saigon” was organized to provide community members an opportunity to share concerns about the controversial musical.
The panel, “Perspectives on Miss Saigon: History and Community,” organized by UW-Madison’s Asian American Studies Program in collaboration with the Overture Center for the Arts, was canceled Wednesday — less than 24 hours before the event.
Set in 1975, “Miss Saigon” tells the story of a young Vietnamese woman who falls in love with an American G.I. Historically, the play has been promoted as an epic love story; however, some have said the film promotes stereotypes and harmful messages about the Asian community.
“The play ‘Miss Saigon’ uses yellowface and racial stereotypes,” said Timothy Yu, a professor in UW-Madison’s Asian American Studies Program.
Despite the Overture’s notification of the event’s cancellation, the Asian American Studies Program hosted their own “teach-in,” a dialogue on a subject of public interest, held on the sidewalks outside the arts center.
Dr. Lori Kido Lopez, a UW-Madison Asian American Studies professor, expressed her shock to the panel being canceled at the teach-in.
“This doesn’t make sense to us,” Lopez said. “Those of us who met with them had a common goal, and that was to educate the public. We wanted to make sure there was an opportunity to talk about this show and bring new voices to the conversation.”
In a news release, Overture’s Senior Vice President for Equity and Innovation Dr. Ed Holmes said, “we determined that we have a misunderstanding with the people that we are collaborating with for this dialogue.”
Professor Yu said they worked hard with the Overture over the past couple of months and imagined an informative conversation would have taken place.
“Instead of having an educational discussion, it turns out that our questions were too inflammatory and too provocative,” he said. “Quite simply, they wanted to have the conversation ultimately on their terms.”
Vice President of Marketing and Sales at the Overture Lex Poppens said they felt the intent of the forum, where all sides of the issues are present and engaged, did not occur.
Leslie Bow, a UW-Madison Asian American Studies Program professor believed her questions were fair and similar to the initial questions the Overture had.
“I am an educator. I am trying to have a forum that is intellectual and civil,” Bow said. “For some reason, the CEO of the Overture, Sandra Gajic, somehow suspected there was an agenda beyond the questions that were being posed.”
Bow also added she still wants to know the answers to her initial questions.
She also added she had never experienced this before, calling it “unprofessional.”
“I still want to know those things but whether I can keep investing time with a partner that will just pull the rug out from under me is questionable,” Bow said.
Poppens said the Overture offered to let the group use Promenade Hall Wednesday night for the teach-in, but the group declined. He also said the Overture would reschedule the panel after the showing of “Miss Saigon,” which will run next week.
Lopez said the faculty did not accept the same room space because they felt betrayed, saying they “didn’t want to have any events on their terms anymore.”
She also added the Overture has yet to invite the panelists to reschedule.
“We doubt that they will, and we will not work with them anymore,” Lopez said.