By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Temperatures are soaring in Seattle and everybody is seeking refuge in any cool temperatures to be had. Go find some shade and cool off from the hot sun with this month’s A-pop! The latest pop culture news and gossip will be sure to distract you from the heat!
American Ballet Theatre announces first Filipina American Principal Dancer
You may have heard that Misty Copeland was the first Black American to be promoted to the rank of Principal Dancer at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). This is a momentous achievement for Copeland as she is the first black woman to ascend to the position in the company’s 75-year history. ABT is the one of the most prestigious and well-known ballet companies in the nation.
What may have flown under your radar, however, was the promotion of Stella Abrera to Principal Dancer at ABT. Abrera, who is Filipina American, is the first Filipino/Filipina American dancer to hold the rank of principal, which is the highest position for a dancer in a ballet company.
Abrera was born in the Philippines, but moved to Southern California at the age of four. She has been studying ballet and dance since she was 5-years-old, and joined the ABT as a member of the ballet company in 1996. She was named a soloist with the company in 2001. Abrera currently stars in the title role of ABT’s production of “Cinderella” at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.
All ABT promotions are effective starting August 1. Congrats to Abrera on her fantastic achievement!
The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston recently invited museum visitors to “channel [their] inner Camille Monet,” based on the model found in Claude Monet’s famous painting “La Japonaise”.
For those unfamiliar, Monet’s “La Japonaise” features the French artist’s wife Camille — who is wearing a blonde wig — donning a red kimono. For four weeks, guests can come to the museum where they can put on a replica of the red kimono and transform into Monet’s muse. Basically, the MFA is promoting cultural appropriation to the public.
Despite the racist overtones of “La Japonaise” by today’s standards, the painting is allegedly a satire of Orientalism during the 1870s, and reflective of the bourgeoisie’s infatuation with Japanese culture after the country became open to Western trade — a trade that only happened as the result of American imperial expansion.
On the MFA website, the museum says that the painting is a “witty comment on the [then] current Paris fad for all things Japanese.” Yet, it is not clear that comment is exactly. Nor does it justify or explain why the MFA would think it appropriate to recreate and celebrate the painting in all its Oriental glory.
Demonstrators have taken to the MFA with signs protesting the event but to no avail. A brief one-page response from the museum argues that the event is part of a greater celebration of Japanese art and culture at the museum, and adamantly denies allegations of racism: “We don’t think this is racist,” according to a response from an MFA representative, as reported by ArtNet.com.
The brief goes on to detail that this “better understanding” is discovered by giving visitors the opportunity to realize how heavy the robe is by wearing it, which may elude to choices the artist made when creating the canvas, or how Monet chose to capture specific parts of the textile.
Um, okay then.
If that isn’t cultural appropriation tied up in a neat little package then I don’t know what is.
Loulan: The Caucasian Beauty… In China
Fans of the “Twilight” franchise may be excited to learn that director Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first installment of the “Twilight” movies, announced that she is making a “sweeping romantic epic set in an ancient Silk Road city located in present-day western China,” according to an article from the Associated Press.
Titled “Loulan,” the movie will be based on a city and kingdom of the same name that mysteriously disappeared hundreds of years ago. A mummy from the same region that had been uncovered in recent decades has been named the “Loulan Beauty,” and has European and Caucasian features.
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you can probably guess where this is heading.
The China-U.S. film collaboration will focus on a princess who may be the Loulan Beauty’s “great-great granddaughter,” and who will be played by an American or English actress, according to Hardwicke. Yes, leave it to Hollywood to find a way to put a central white character in a film that takes place in ancient China. The difference between this film and other recent offenders (i.e. Emma Stone’s casting in “Aloha”) is that at least the film’s leadership is being transparent about casting a white person in a starring role involving Asian culture. I’m not saying this is better, but at least there is ownership over the offense, as opposed to doling out misguided or weak apologies in defense of a white-washed casting.
Filming for “Loulan” will start in August 2016. No names have been announced for the cast yet, but rest assured that I will report back once producers find their coveted Caucasian/European beauty. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.