The Take Away

  • We are so fucking angry.

  • I wish we could have paid more attention to the talent used in this show (Shout out to Samantha Funk whose vocal range is to die for), but all the offensive material was entirely distracting.

  • Aladdin: A Musical Panto is blithe white supremacy, boldly produced. It is violent, and it is cruel.

In Our Pockets

Sarah

I’m a white, which I’m increasingly embarrassed about thanks to shows like this. I’m not a man. I worked very little for PLTC several years ago, but have no other real affiliation. I purposely didn’t read all the pieces about this before I saw it, but I did read Melody and Gina’s pieces. Honestly, just the promotional photos had me worried and apparently for great reason!

Elias

I’m a Vietnamese-American cis man from Houston, TX. I have read both Melody Wong’s and Gina Pisasale’s pieces surrounding the controversy in the Broad Street Review. I admittedly came into this show with low expectations.

Design

Several racist choices were made in sound and music. The use of gongs was the most obvious.  Also upsetting was the Arab-sounding version of the Oriental Riff that is normally used to mock East Asia.

Rosemarie McKelvey’s costumes mixed motifs of all Asian and Arab cultures together in classic Orientalism.

Choreography by Samantha Reading showed disrespect to the long tradition of belly dance, an established and formalized tradition by opting instead for an imitation in which performers shimmied and and waved their arms with their bellies showing.

We’re unsure why was the Taj Mahal was depicted in a desert landscape in a video projection. There is no credited video designer, so we are unable to place accountability for that additional Orientalist move. The Taj Mahal, a real building, is a tomb and a mosque and not a palace. It was ransacked by the British during colonialism and carvings and stones were literally pulled out of the walls of the tomb and never returned, so in a way, I guess it is appropriate for this show.

Overall, it’s as though the production design took Disney’s uncritical Orientalism and ramped it up to 11.

Direction

Pete Pryor’s creation and direction of the show upheld white supremacy and uncritically delighted in Orientalism at every turn. It appropriated from numerous cultures in an ignorant and harmful way, and it showed to us that Pryor has no understanding of and definitely no appreciation for the cultures from which he cribbed for this overall direction.

On top of the virulent racism and Orientalism and pervasive sexism, the production also employed this bizarre and (within the context of this awful show) troubling trope where characters would, on occasion, bring up hot-button topics like global warming, gentrification, displacement of minority groups, and even the #MeToo movement, as if to secure its own “liberal cred” to say “we totally get it,” but then would completely sidestep tackling the issue in even a remotely substantive way with a snide joke about something else completely irrelevant. Ultimately, this watered-down pale imitation of The Daily Show comedic critique is actually dangerous, because it implies response to these hard issues is futile or unimportant, essentially saying that those things don’t really matter because it’s just time to laugh now.

As has been well established, we at Bonaly just can’t take a joke.

It’s Just for Fun

If I hear one more company/director/person saying “Hey, we just all need a silly laugh sometimes,” I will legitimately scream. Again I find myself asking, whose laughter are we securing? Whose comfort are seeking to ensure? And at what cost to the people you are denigrating? The answers to me are self-evident, that such laughter and comfort is for the white suburbanite moderate Democrat who thinks they are “a good person” and therefore, having done enough for “the resistance” by not actively joining the KKK are above reproach and just deserve a good old time at the the-a-ter. All the while, people of color bear the yoke of racism for the sake of white comfort.

 

Is this the Best We Can Do?

Bafflingly, the director’s note in the program says this is the “reexamined” version of this show due to the “current state of affairs.” PLTC produced a version of Aladdin in 2012, and they made the decision to produce it again, taking the current buzzwords, but not the current zeitgeist into account. Further, they chose to revamp it with no apparent awareness of Orientalism and cultural appropriation which Philly’s artists of color have been working hard to resist and educate about since the racist travesty of a production of Julius Caesar by Lantern Theatre Company three years ago. We know that the moral arc of the universe is long,  but how shitty is this learning curve?

Pete Pryor’s director’s note says that PLTC does this “ridiculous yearly tradition” of the Panto “to create a community.” But for whom? Who is included in this community, and who is not only left out, but violently rejected from it? What community can you build for 2017 if you are ignorant of or incapable of knowing the history of white supremacy’s violence and the Orientalism that flows from it?

It’s for Kids

Perhaps worst of all, the show is for children.  Mostly white suburban children, but we saw multiple ethnicities represented in our audience, and all of them received the sexist and racist messages in this show in a fun, lighthearted package. PLTC’s lack of reflection or apology are extra troubling because this is a moment in America and in Philly Theater where it’s no longer possible to claim ignorance. 

This is how things don’t change. Adults with “good intentions” reveal their true colors when they refuse to listen to those who are harmed. They place their “fun” above the pain of others and they teach the next generation to do the same.  Seeing the show, and the response to it honestly makes me hopeless about the future. Those who suffer the exclusion of racism, sexism, transphobia and othering keep hoping the problems will die out or lessen with the oldest generation, but this production seemed to solidify the fear that they will continue.

 

Examples of why we are calling this show racist: 

-Use of gong at top of show

-Poor imitation of belly dancing to open the show

-Poor imitation of Bollywood choreography (again, a real style with real steps, reduced to othering imitation) in final dance

-Turbans on Morris the Mantis and Manny the Monkey, Aladdin’s best friends. Presumably, to other them as animals and foreign as they both had accents/funny voices. (Turbans are worn by Sikhs and some Shi’a Muslims today, and were worn in the past to denote high status. Here, they are soley meant to denote otherness.)

-Morris the Mantis’s cartoonish Latinx accent, random Spanish with jokes about how many siblings Morris the Mantis has

-Villain, called Fu, (Fu Manchu is the archetypal evil Asian) is in yellowface

-All the F-U jokes, which  Melody Wong  reports brought painful reminders of ching-chong mockery in her childhood

-Orientalist costuming throughout: Mughal clothing, Egyptian clothing, South Asian details, Middle Eastern/Arabic details mixed together, for example

-Japanese architecture on the “house dress” costume for Widow Twankey, further conflating East Asian and Middle Eastern cultures

-Arabic/Chinese-y imitation font

-Evil henchmen song “Step Right Up” featured step and rapping by all white people (we long for the day when this trope is put to bed)

-Princess Mai Tai’s disguise as “Intern Moses”, a stereotypically Jewish man

-Literal Magical Black Person (only Black person on stage was Genie of the Lamp)

-”I wish I had your freedom” says Black character to white character, to which white character responds “I wish I had your magical powers.”

-Using Asian YouTube personality/viral video as a joke, which within the context of the rest of this play is galling, and MORTAL KOMBAT fight scene/videogame music wouldn’t be awful if not for everything else. Within the context of white people’s total disregard and disrespect for Asian people, these jokes just pile on

-The name Princess Mai Tai, a double-feature of racism and sexism, and part of a long tradition of food jokes with Asian names

Examples of why we are calling this show sexist, homophobic and transphobic:

-Men dressed as women presented as hilarious- this is cheap and outdated and it demeans women and especially transpeople. Please stop.

-Lady dressed as man is not presented as a joke, making the first genderswap joke worse

-Jokes about consent of Princess being required for marriage

-Sultan’s jokes about how the key to a good marriage is: women don’t try to change the man, and in exchange, the man agrees to not literally kill the woman, perpetuating stereotypes about “Oriental” attitudes towards women, and making light of real violence

-Transitioning directly from #MeToo references to jokes about how hot Princess Mai Tai is

-”Don’t try and fix anything; all they want is to talk out loud about their problems” A sampling of hilarious jokes about women

-Princess Mai Tai disappears for half the show when she is no longer a viable plot point

-Female interns (evil henchpeople) turn into belly dancers at end of show. Male intern stays in his suit. Again, in context of all the awful, continues to be awful

  • Note: The original posting confused the words “Arabic,” which is the language,  and “Arab,” the adjective. The post has been edited to fix the mistake after we were corrected in the comments

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Aladdin: A Musical Panto- People’s Light and Theater

  1. “Arabic” is the language, “Arab” is the adjective. Culture and clothing can’t be “Arabic.” When you say “Arabic language” etc. you should be saying “Arab language.”

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  2. Ugh… With friends like you who needs enemies?

    This kind of shit is why Trump voters hate liberals. Divisive, hateful, and merciless. In fact, this crock of nonsense is only marginally less worse than they are, because I have to assume you have generally benevolent intentions.

    You know what you’re saying. You’re on the right track. However, you don’t have the wisdom to apply your criticism in a constructive way. You assume the most nefarious intentions, and offer no charitable interpretations. You demonize allies, and condemn those who might have been willing to listen.

    You move us all backward by manipulating truth into a weapon, instead of using it to heal.

    I apologize for being rude but extremists like yourself are rarely challenged. I hope the severity makes you think instead of causing you to tune everything out. I might be misjudging, in which case… my mistake. But I’ve seen measured and considered opinions be ignored. Perhaps fire with fire is, regrettably, the only way to cut through the noise these days.

    Please stop trying to pump up your own liberal credentials among your friends by demonstrating how “with it” you are. Nobody cares about your circle jerk of victimhood. Most progressives won’t speak up against you because we generally empathize, but this petty bullshit is ridiculous. I’m sick to death of this anger porn, and so is everyone outside of your immediate bubble.

    You’re hurting artists who are on the same side as you. Stop vilifying. Try listening. Stop trying to “win.” Try engaging.

    Try empathy.

    Just…. try to be a human.

    (Or not. You know? Burn down the whole world and see if you can enjoy the ashes.)

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  3. Okay. I’ll play. I’ll go by an alias or “anonymous” too. Maybe all the artists in America should do the same? Not put their names to their work? There is something too that, right? Then the art would be the art? The target of criticism would solely be the art? The identities of the creators and interpretors would no longer serve as bait for prejudices and assumptions (or context)? There are pros and cons to that, right? It’s an interesting end game for viral criticism. Is that your intent?

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