A free showing of the classic film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in Sacramento has been canceled after it was pointed out to organizers that Mickey Rooney’s yellow-face Mr. Yunioshi scenes are offensive to many Asian Americans. After the first protests, Rooney’s scenes were going to be deleted from the film for the screening.
Sacramento Vice Mayor Steve Cohn included the movie in his annual Screen on the Green free film festival. When he was alerted to the fact that many Asian Americans found the Rooney character offensive, he decided to delete some scenes and use it as an “educational opportunity.”
Cohn’s response is one way to handle it even if initially there was no thought given to how offensive Rooney’s character is. As Cohn says in the article, he may take some criticism for censorship, but I could easily see an instance where the organizers would dig their heels in and say, we’re going to show it and not give in to the PC police.
Another way to handle it would be to show it in its original form and have a discussion about why it is offensive. That would be an effective learning tool as well for those of may not get it.
In the end, cutting the scenes proved cumbersome and “Ratatouille” replaced “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for the festival.
Rooney, contacted by the Sacramento Bee, insists that Yunioshi is not offensive. The fact is there are many movies with Yunioshi-like characters or plot lines out there. In their time, they may have been more acceptable, but how do you deal with them today?
A version of this post is also published on Hyphen magazine’s blog.