I. Y. Yunioshi
I. Y. Yunioshi is a fictional character in Blake Edwards' 1961 romantic/comedy Breakfast at Tiffany's, which was adapted for the screen by George Axelrod based on Truman Capote's 1958 novella of the same title. The character of Mr. Yunioshi in the film, as portrayed by Mickey Rooney, has been the subject of extensive critical commentary and review since its theatrical release.
In the early 1960's and before, racially-charged humor was rather acceptable in American culture, although this general attitude began to change later in that decade, and more so afterwards. In 1961, The New York Times review of the film said that "Mickey Rooney's bucktoothed, myopic Japanese is broadly exotic." In 1990, The Boston Globe described Rooney's portrayal as "an irascible bucktoothed nerd and an offensive ethnic caricature". In 1993, the Los Angeles Daily News wrote that the role "would have been an offensive stereotype even played by an Asian; the casting of Mickey Rooney added insult to injury".
More recent characterizations include "cringe-inducing stereotype", "painful, misguided", "overtly racist" and "Orientalist", an "inexcusable case of yellowface", "one of the most egregiously horrible 'comic' impersonations of an Asian ... in the history of movies", and a portrayal "border[ing] on offensive" that is a "double blow to the Asian community – not only is he fatuous and uncomplimentary, but he is played by a Caucasian actor in heavy makeup." Similarities between the character of Mr. Yunioshi and anti-Japanese wartime propaganda in the United States have been noticed by critics.
The portrayal was referenced in the 1993 film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story as an example of Hollywood's racist attitudes about Asians that Bruce Lee's success as a movie star would challenge. Specifically, when Lee and his girlfriend Linda Emery (portrayed in the film by Jason Scott Lee and Lauren Holly, respectively) watch Breakfast at Tiffany's in the theater, where despite laughing at the character, Linda suggests they leave midway through the picture after she notices that Bruce is upset at Rooney's stereotypical depiction of an Asian man.
A free outdoor screening in Sacramento, California, scheduled for August 23, 2008, was replaced with the animated film Ratatouille after protests about the Yunioshi character. The protest was led by Christina Fa of the Asian American Media Watch.
A screening was shown August 11, 2011 at Brooklyn Bridge Park's "Movies with a View" series in New York. Due to protests from a multi-ethnic group organized by an online petition at Change.org, the screening also included a short statement by the organizers which acknowledged and validated community concerns about Yunioshi and a brief documentary about Rooney's character and the portrayal of Asian Americans in other films that was edited from a DVD extra for the anniversary DVD. An editorial in the New York Daily News by columnist Jeff Yang offered an alternative view regarding the protests: "Far from boycotting the movie or even begrudgingly accepting it, I think it should be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to fully understand who we are as a culture, how far we've come and how far we still need to go."
Response to criticism
In a 2008 interview about the film, Rooney said he was heartbroken about the criticism: "Blake Edwards...wanted me to do it because he was a comedy director. They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it....Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it—not one complaint. Every place I've gone in the world people say, 'God, you were so funny.' Asians and Chinese come up to me and say, 'Mickey you were out of this world.'" Rooney also said that if he'd known people would be so offended, "I wouldn't have done it. Those that didn't like it, I forgive them and God bless America, God bless the universe, God bless Japanese, Chinese, Indians, all of them and let's have peace."
A 2013 Broadway show based on the film cast Japanese-American actor James Yaegashi as a culturally-assimilated Japanese-American Yunioshi born in California, as the character was written in Capote's original book.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to I.Y. Yunioshi.|
- Weiler, A.H. (October 6, 1961). "The Screen: Breakfast at Tiffany's: Audrey Hepburn Stars in Music Hall Comedy". New York Times. Retrieved September 24, 2011.
- Koch, John (April 1, 1990). "Quick Cuts and Stereotypes". The Boston Globe. Boston. Retrieved September 24, 2011.
- "Breaking Barriers". Los Angeles Daily News. September 7, 1993.
- Durant, Yvonne (June 18, 2006). "Where Holly Hung Her Ever-So-Stylish Hat". New York Observed. The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- Dargis, Manohla (July 20, 2007). "Dude (Nyuck-Nyuck), I Love You (as If!)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- Guernsey, Jessica. "The Undercover Minstrel Show" (PDF). Dartmouth Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Quarterly. Dartmouth College (August 2009): 2–6.
For an overtly racist Orientalist representation in American film, see Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
- "Top 10 Racially Offensive Movie Characters". Retrieved 2015-10-10.
- "The Movies, Race, and Ethnicity: Asian Americans: Videotapes in the Media Resources Center, UC Berkeley". University of California, Berkeley Library System. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- Berardinelli, James (2000). "Breakfast at Tiffany's". reelviews.net. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- Yang, Jeff (17 July 2011). "'Breakfast at Tiffany’s' protest is misguided: Let’s deal openly with the film's Asian stereotypes". NY Daily News. Retrieved 19 July 2011.
- Kerr, David. "Stereotypes in the Media". mrkerronline. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
- Ito, Robert B. (March 1997). "A Certain Slant: A Brief History of Hollywood Yellowface". Bright Lights Film Journal. Bright Lights Film Journal. Archived from the original on 2009-07-14. Retrieved 2010-12-23.
- Magagnini, Stephen (September 28, 2008). "Mickey Rooney upset about claims his 'Tiffany's' role is racist". Sacramento Bee. Scripps Howard News Service. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- "'Breakfast' is Out to Lunch". AsianWeek. 2008-08-27. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
- "breakfast at tiffany's screening will include manaa documentary on mr. yunioshi". Angry Asian Man.
- Bell, Robert (January 12, 2009). "DVD Review: Breakfast at Tiffany's - Centennial Collection". The Trades. Retrieved September 24, 2011.