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8.26.2008

mr. yunioshi refuses to die


There was a bit of controversy last week in Sacramento over a film screening of Breakfast at Tiffany's. For most, the 1961 film is a lighthearted Hollywood classic. But as many of us Asian Americans know, the movie features one of the worst examples of a racist yellowface caricature in the history of Hollywood: Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi—literally, an accented, bumbling, buck-toothed clown. It's downright grotesque.

The screening was part of the city's Screen on the Green free outdoor movie series. No big deal, right? Or so the city thought. The scheduled movie drew the ire of local Asian American activists groups, which strongly objected to the inclusion of the film at what's supposed to be a fun family event: Asian activists say 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is a racist film.

Someone either wasn't aware, or didn't care about the racist caricature. Organizers initially responded to the controversy with plans to screen the film as planned, but the with the Mr. Yunioshi scenes deleted, and "use it as a teaching moment." But it looks like they eventually canceled the movie altogether, and screened Ratatouille instead: Sacramento pulls "Breakfast at Tiffany's" showing.

Of course, star Mickey Rooney, now 87-years-old, can't understand why anyone could possibly find the character offensive: Rooney says racism charge at '61 film role 'breaks my heart'. He really doesn't get it at all. What's worse is what his wife says: "It's terribly sad, and I feel bad for the people taking offense." Right, because it's our fault that we're offended. Give me a break. That's racist!