“Dainty as Needs Be”: Madame Butterfly and Cosmetic Yellowface
The most famous and enduring stereotype of Asian women in the U.S. has been the Madame Butterfly. A tragic heroine, the character has been represented by white actresses onstage and on screen for over a century around the world, and she has come to embody the West's fantasy of Asian womanhood. This talk examines how the stereotype was created as a particular form of yellowface (the theatrical convention of non-Asian actors portraying East Asian characters). It analyses how the first production of the play Madame Butterfly was staged and how the white actress who played the role utilized the technology of yellowface.
Dr. Esther Kim Lee is Professor in the Department of Theater Studies the International Comparative Studies and the Director of Asian American & Diaspora Studies at Duke University. Dr. Lee teaches and writes about theatre history, Asian American theatre, Korean diaspora theatre, and globalization and theatre. Dr. Lee received her Ph.D. in Theatre History, Criticism, and Literature at The Ohio State University in 2000 and taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 2000 to 2012 and at the University of Maryland from 2013 to 2018. She is the author of A History of Asian American Theatre (Cambridge University Press, 2006), which received the 2007 Award for Outstanding Book given by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education. She is the editor of Seven Contemporary Plays from the Korean Diaspora in the Americas (Duke University Press, 2012). From 2013 to 2014, she was the Chief Editor of Theatre Survey, the flagship journal of the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), and served as ASTR's Vice President for Publications from 2017 to 2019. Her latest published book is The Theatre of David Henry Hwang (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2015), and her new book, Made-Up Asians: Yellowface During the Exclusion Era will be published by the University of Michigan Press in 2022.