“How I Met Your Mother” Puts White Characters In Asian “Yellowface” [UPDATE]
UPDATE, 1/16/14, 11a.m.: Commenters have pointed out to me that there were numerous errors in this post. I apologize for the errors and my ignorance on these differences.
Last night’s episode of CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother” is under fire for the racist decision to depict three of its white characters in “yellowface” — that is, dressing up like they are Asian,
in this case Japanese in this case Chinese. Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders both dressed in kimonos Chinese gowns, their hair pinned up geisha-style, and ate using chopsticks; Radnor wore a silk jacket and a long Fu Manchu mustache. There were fans, references to Shanghai and jokes about noodles.
According to BuzzFeed, the episode showed the character Marshall (Jason Segel) learning how to slap Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) through the “Slap Of A Million Exploding Suns.” He learned this slap through three wise masters, played by his white friends, who were called Red Bird, Flower and The Calligrapher. As noted by a TV recapper on the gaming web site IGN, there were also stylistic nods to Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies. Still, he called it “just pretty racist across the board.”
I learned of the episode when Twitter exploded last night with the hashtag #HowIMetYourRacism. A shit ton of Asian folks, as well as their allies, found this episode straight-up offensive. The cast already does not have any people of color on it, so one really has to wonder what the writers were thinking by putting white actors in yellowface. And in such stereotypical ones at that! Wise old masters are okay when they’re played by actual old Asian actors, like in “Karate Kid” — not when they’re played by a white chick who was in “Buffy.”
Other people’s cultures aren’t jokes for your sitcom plot. We’ll update this post if/when CBS or any of the cast members issue an apology.