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16 Sep 2019 6:20
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  •   Home > News > Entertainment

    Melbourne Fringe festival 'Aussie Geisha' performance cancelled over 'yellowface' accusation

    The show, described as a "cross cultural love story", will not go ahead after a public campaign and open letter calling the production a "stereotyped depiction of orientalist fantasy".

    The Melbourne Fringe Festival will no longer host the performance of a work about an "Aussie Geisha" after it was criticised for its alleged "stereotyped depiction of orientalist fantasy".

    Comedian Kate Hanley Corley's Aisha the Aussie Geisha is described as a "cross cultural love story" about a dairy farmer from Koo Wee Rup who, in a bid to win back the affections of her fiance, enrols in a geisha school in Tokyo.

    "Aisha the Aussie Geisha's emotional journey is told with original songs including Hot Tub Geisha, Aisha, You'll Never Make a Geisha, and I Wanna Haiku With You," according to the festival's marketing materials.

    Earlier this week, the online magazine Liminal, which focuses on the experiences of Asian-Australians, publicly condemned the planned performance, which was part of Fringe's open access program, a non-curated portion of the event.

    On Wednesday, it published an open letter, signed by about 100 academics, festival performers and others, including the Miles Franklin Award-winning author Melissa Lucashenko, calling on the festival to cancel the performance.

    Basing its position on "initial information and visuals communicated to audiences", as well as a review of the show from 2014, the magazine said Aisha the Aussie Geisha, which was to be performed during the festival next month, "borders on yellowface".

    "Reducing entire segments of humanity to punchlines is antithetical to the values of Melbourne Fringe, and harmful and insulting to Asian and Asian-Australian people," the letter says.

    "In the context of rising discrimination, white supremacy and a political and media environment that is still largely hostile to people of colour, the hosting of a performance of this nature in the Melbourne Fringe program (regardless of open access programming) is an egregious and irresponsible contribution to a dangerous cultural movement."

    Show 'does not denigrate Japanese culture'

    By Wednesday afternoon, the festival announced on Twitter that it and Corley had come to the "mutual decision" not to stage the performance.

    "Melbourne Fringe strives to be an inclusive place for everyone and acknowledges that our commitment to freedom of artistic expression sometimes comes into conflict with this," it said in a statement.

    "We recognise in this instance the balance wasn't right."

    A spokesperson for Melbourne Fringe said the festival had no further comment and that its creative director, Simon Abrahams, was currently overseas.

    The ABC has contacted Corley for comment.

    The show's Facebook page was deleted, though not before a statement was posted to it.

    "That the show is being referred to as racist and 'yellow face' has upset me greatly as I have many Japanese friends who supported the first iteration of the show along with it being well received by audiences without any accusations of of racism," it says.

    "The content of the show focusses on sending up masculine Australian culture and it's my belief that it does not in any way denigrate Japanese culture, a culture I have always loved and been fascinated by."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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