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Yellowface in Hollywood hasn’t been okay since… well, ever. But that didn’t stop last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother from employing the very same racist and outdated tactics used in films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sixteen Candles or Dragon Seed.
The episode, titled “Slapsgiving: Slappointment in Slapmarra,” has Marshall (Jason Segel) recount how he mastered the “Slap of a Million Exploding Suns” by learning techniques from kung-fu masters Red Bird (Robin), White Flower (Lily), and The Calligrapher (Ted). That’s right, the kung-fu slapping masters were played by white people in costumes, yellowface, and in the case of Ted, a Fu Manchu mustache.
Twitter immediately went on the offensive, with twitter user @suey_park starting the trending hashtag #HowIMetYourRacism to shed light on the issues presented in this episode.
— Suey Park (@suey_park) January 15, 2014
A show with predominately white actors and completely white writing staff, it’s worth nothing that the only character of color on the show is a stereotypical South Asian cab driver played by Iranian-American actor Marshall Manesh.
Really, CBS? This is a network that proudly stands by a show like 2 Broke Girls, which has had some of the most offensive representation of Asian people in recent memory. And just last summer, racism and homophobia erupted on the set of long-running reality show Big Brother, hosted by Asian-American TV personality Julie Chen; instead of dealing with the matter in a mature and responsible way, CBS decided to exploit the incident for ratings.
Let’s not pretend that the actors, who’ve been working on the show for nine seasons, aren’t just as culpable as the writing staff. The writers may have been the ones to pen the reprehensible episode, but it was the actors – Cobie Smulders, Josh Radnor, and Alyson Hannigan – who all donned yellowface in the name of “comedy.” And it was Jason Segel and Neil Patrick Harris who played along with the jokes.
After nine (somehow) successful seasons, the actors should have had more than enough clout to dictate storylines or at the very least refuse to take part in them, had they had actual concerns with the blatant racism. The fact that they didn’t speaks volumes.
So, too, do the other instances of racist media these actors have participated in. Take this video of Neil Patrick Harris parodying a Bollywood musical number, for instance.
There are many instances of anti-Asian sentiment in Five-Year Engagement, co-written by and starring Jason Segel, as well. Asian women are hypersexualized, depicted as nameless mail-order trophy wives, and referred to simply as “this Korean, that Korean.” The only male Asian character is portrayed as being an awkward, borderline creepy stereotype, thus furthering the idea that Asian men are weak with no sex appeal. The character also sports a thick Asian accent, a point of comedic relief, despite the fact that the actor – Randall Park – was born and raised in California.
This isn’t the first incident of racism on How I Met Your Mother, either. A recurring joke in “Perfect Week” is at the expense of foreign-sounding, and therefore inherently hilarious, Asian names. Here’s a thought, HIMYM writers: the cultures and histories of people of color are not your toys, costumes, or tools to use to get cheap laughs.
We’re pretty disgusted by the episode, and the writers and actors involved. It’s a shame that not enough media outlets are talking about this in their reviews of the episode, and that’s troubling in and of itself. The AV Club, Entertainment Weekly, and Vulture (to name a few) gave it rave reviews without once mentioning the disturbing racist elements of the episode. Yellowface and mockery of Asian people and cultures has become so commonplace – it’s up to individual Twitter users to bring attention to it. That is unacceptable.