• gohan

    I’m glad I found this article. I went to see this musical a couple of days ago and I couldn’t understand how people didn’t realise it is an extremely racist and sexist story. It is US propaganda disguised as a love story (again, a very stereotypical and sexist one). I was disgusted. I didn’t even clap the actors at the end. I couldn’t understand how Asian actors could play those characters. I hope people realise how disgusting this musical is and it’s never performed again.

  • Lia Savage

    It’s a nice article & appreciate you sharing your story.
    I am an Asian & can relate how some caucasian men see us as a weak & submissive women. They got that dead wrong. I have been through lots & still here…standing strong.
    When it comes to this play…I like it. I cried too.
    For me, I see it as entertainment…a play. I don’t see it as a historical, factual piece at all.
    There for, I don’t get offended of how the play goes.
    Don’t get me wrong…I know the history of how Vietnamese people struggle during the dictatorship, communist era. I deeply against any of it & disgusted by it.
    My point is…It’s a play & it’s there for drama, a bit comedy enjoyment & wonderful musical.

  • Gary Johnson

    I know how nice it to find fault with the USA but why has no one mentioned that this musical was written and produced by the British.

  • Teh Vanarch

    No, no and no; take all the no.

    – Miss Saigon is just another over-hyped production by white men who play on the stereotypical white saviour-desperate Oriental woman narrative.

    – Who cares what a single journalist says? Yes, the economy was floating on American aid but also had a basic industrial framework with which to expand upon. What East Asian economy at the time didn’t have a black market, drugs, prostitution etc.? Japan, South Korea and Singapore were still largely developing and dictatorial.

    – You shot yourself in the foot there; pandering to the ignorant masses of white folks is what continues this vicious cycle of nonsense.

    – There were plenty of ARVN soldiers who were honest in their convictions, willing to defend their homeland from a threat that, once it came, imprisoned over a million of them, collectivised all the land and took all the currency, forcing out millions and still to this day discriminates against them (The CPV allocates a ridiculously skewed % of funding to Hanoi compared to Saigon even though the latter is by far the largest contributor to its coffers).

    – There are plenty of amazing tales from both sides but for you to be dismissing one entire group’s narratives is laughable and shows where you stand.

    – Stop mixing in details that have nothing to do with anything. Feeling grateful for acceptance is one thing and disliking the continued tropes that negatively illustrate Asians is completely different.

    Sorry but the only ignoramus here is you; keep defending ignorance.

  • KayaDash

    “The most damaging part is this: In Miss Saigon, Vietnam is a place not worth saving, and America is a holy grail worth killing and dying for. We hate ourselves because we are not white (the Engineer), and we will even shoot ourselves in the name of America (Kim). Why would you want to be with a Vietnamese man when you can be with a white man? Why would you want to be Vietnamese when you can be American instead?”

    I understand part of your sentiments, on another level, I disagree entirely with this vietnamese perspective on miss saigon. You state the play makes the assumption that America is worth killing and dying for. Did you step out to the bathroom during the number “The American Dream”, which happens to totally lampoon the perception of American culture and superiority?

    Did anyone in the audience actually think the Engineer represented the common every day Vietnamese person? This is like saying Thenardier represented the common French man in Les Miserables. It’s not an argument that holds water. He’s unique and individual to himself.

    Again, did you step outside during “You will not touch him”? Kim kills to protect the life of her son. The play makes reference to the cruel treatment faced culturally by half-american/half-vietnamese children of the time. Your assumption is again, a complete distortion of the play’s narrative.

    “Why would you want to be with a vietnamese man when you can be with a white man?” I never saw the play making this assumption. The play does make the assumption that America is seen as a world free from the pain and violence faced across Vietnam during the war. A land of plenty, if you will. (This is also touched on in Olive Stone’s Heaven & Earth, which you cleverly ignore as being inexistant when mentioning Platoon, which is part of a trilogy of films on Vietnam, two of which are severely critical of the American perspective). However, this concept is, again, neatly crapped upon with “the American Dream”. I think you’re failing to realize that this play is “insulting” or, in other words, critical of both sides in the war. Characters on both the american and vietnamese side make mistakes and are inherently flawed in many ways. There are no winners in this play, no matter the skin color.

    “Asian women like her are rarely presented in American culture—as people who are resilient, resourceful, strong, not victims. Instead, in Miss Saigon, Kim, a woman with no last name, sings about her longing for a man to save her. She says nothing when she is abused by the men around her but suffers silently, beautifully. And when living in America isn’t an option, she kills herself; for her, being dead is better than being Vietnamese. And the largely white audience has a good cry and feels like they’ve had an educational experience.”

    Again, another quote that simply infuriates me. As a white man, Kim is one of my heroes. She comes from a position of weakness in the play and struggles to survive, “resilient” and “resourceful” enough to make an attempt to escape a life of poverty, “strong” enough to defend her child from being killed. Yes, she does sing about longing for someone to save her, but this is a love story. Did you ignore the entire part about what Chris saw in her, and how Kim was the only good thing in his life, too? How he needed her? Kim “says nothing” and “suffers silently”? I recall her very clearly killing someone to defend herself. This is not representative of the “submissive” stereotype of Asian women. Kim is the opposite of that.

    It’s a slap in the face to the creators of this play when you claim Kim kills herself because she can’t “liv[e] in America”. Kim faced years of hell to be reunited with the person she loved, only to see that person married to another, facing their decision to not take her son back with them to America. It’s reasonable enough to understand that perhaps a character forced into dancing for a living in a foreign country as a poor refugee might want her son to have the stability present in the west compared to her current circumstances. Kim displays an ultimate sense of strength in her demise, ultimately controlling the outcome of her son’s future by sacrificing herself. This character dies to protect the life and growth of their son, and you dumb it down to “Boo hoo, me so sad, me no live in America!” It’s a gross distortion meant to fit an unreasonably reverse-racist narrative.

    i won’t even pick apart the rest of this tired diatribe. You don’t have the right to claim any of these characters or the storylines present in this play were ever an attempt to represent the common Vietnamese person of today or even then. The characters are singular to themselves, all placed within a tragic narrative where there are no winners and every character has some deep seeded guilt or shame surrounding the actions and environment they live in. America is insulted just as often as Vietnam. If the play presents its white characters as being ‘saviors’, the play throws this right back in their face when their efforts of ‘saving’ people completely fail. The plays core message isn’t about race whatsoever. It’s about how war destroys love and families, about how our dreams often don’t live up to reality.

    The argument against Miss Saigon by Vietnamese people always seems to be centered around that fact that because this is the only widespread play that deals with the Vietnam issue, and it doesn’t paint their culture in the most perfect light, that it must be racist and completely horrible and without merit whatsoever. You can’t expect me to sit here and make me think that somehow this play is trying to tell me every single Vietnamese person ever was either a crazy soldier or a prostitute. I always saw the play as a critique of both sides of the war. It’s a love story about two young people who majorly screw up their own lives and suffer the consequences. I never felt like I was being made to hate the Vietnamese people. I never felt like because the play focuses on prostitutes and pimps that this is what every Vietnamese person is like. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t go around saying that just because this one play focuses on that seedy aspect of the Vietnamese war that this is an affront to every Vietnamese person. Again, let’s compare it to the producers other play, Les Miserables. I’ve never heard the complaint that because Fantine is a main character and it shows French women as prostitutes that it’s somehow a racial affront against ever single Parisian, and that it harms Parisian’s image in popular culture at large. No one goes around saying “Man, Fantine makes the French look so weak. She needed a MAN to save her too!” It’s only because Vietnam has not been successfully touched upon in any other way dramatically on Broadway that you somehow believe this is an acceptable criticism. It’s not.

    I’m a white man from New York, home of the delusional “American Dream” of this play – I love this play, I love the Vietnamese people and respect them deeply, and I never viewed this play as anything other than a story of an incredibly strong woman doing everything she can to protect the life of her son, and of various people playing their parts in humanity’s ultimate failure, war. The criticisms such as the ones you lob around seem to suggest you have a certain racial anxiety at the forefront of your mind at all times. I can understand that if you are a minority, and I don’t demean you for respecting your own culture and people. But this can often lead to a jaded perspective – Miss Saigon was never meant to be a play “about” race. It never set out to reflect upon the entirety of vietnamese or american culture, but only the immediate trappings of a horrible war and certain types of people who played their part in it. You paint the play as being dumb, as the audience being dumber. This work lead me to give further attention to Vietnamese culture and stories, increasing my understanding of that particular culture.

    • Teh Vanarch

      Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks. Miss Saigon is a miss for me, it plays on tired tropes and is not worth watching. -1/10.

  • Republican Yankee

    What a bunch of anti-white drivel.
    Your family hated America so much that they came here.
    You hate America so much that you will never leave.

    • gohan

      They don’t hate a land. They hate racists like you.

  • costello_g

    An excellent article. I was one of those white people crying in the audience. I always felt that Kim’s story was tragic, but I never thought it represented all Vietnamese women and their experiences. But at the same time, I appreciate that most Vietnamese people do not get to see their stories, their culture respresented
    without being shown through a white, Western lens.

    One additional comment: Kim’s suicide is not for her sake, but to force Chris to take his son, a mixed race child who is ostracized in Vietnam. I don’t know if that ostracism is historically factual, but that is her reason for leaving in the first place. I think it is telling that Chris, the American who is supposed to “do good” rejects adopting his child, and forces Kim’s hand. For all the white guilt implied by the story, the white man ultimately does nothing but harm.

    • jesstv

      It’s fairly factual. My dad was kicked around by family when my nana was in jail for trying to flee with her kids during the war. Her white soldier SO was relocated and just never returned. My dad was bullied and shunned. He works occasionally as an advocate or translator for half white Vietnamese immigrants who are either illiterate in their own culture or lost in their new American identity…

    • Paul Mason

      costello_g- For those of us who have not seen this play. I would appreciate it if you would not reveal the plot. You are not clever. Downright selfishness.

      • hophigh

        they talk about kim’s suicide in the article. stop complaining.

    • Minh Anh Nguyen

      Asian woman, like other woman are strong and they have pride . My grandmother has 11 children and she had to grow them up alone when my grandfather went to war. Even being abandoned by their husbands, a lot of women still survive and live for their children. The more they love their children, the more they are determinant to live. Kim suicide in Miss Saigon just like an act of teenager girl. That scene brainwash people into thinking Asian women are weak and like a baby doll.

  • Laurel Sayler

    My mom made the decision to sponsor a refugee family after the war. They were immediately accepted as family by my mom and grandparents. Today, I say I have five brothers even though, technically, I’m an only child. I couldn’t imagine my life without them all in it and I’m glad my mom made the choice she made.

  • nikkei_jin

    What do you expect, this is created by white people and probably most of them are men.They have their biases intentional or not. I agree with some comments here, you can perhaps create an all new production from the point of view of the Vietnamese people with decent set of songs of course. Miss Saigon is a product of westerners’ brain from decades ago, they would see to it that its appealing enough to be appreciated by their own people. Lets just agree that their idea of Vietnam war is different from your family’s version of it. Well, you have the right to complain but please this show is just not about Vietnam. This is also about the beautiful songs, the brilliant Asian/nonAsian actors and the quality of the production…can you at least give a little appreciation?

    • gohan

      Come on! This musical is just US propaganda disguised as a (sexist) love story. Disgusting. You can’t just overlook that.

  • Free Frank

    ‘Popular narratives of the Vietnam War typically exclude us.’ True. No major American-made Vietnam War film ever includes a South Vietnamese character, with a name, who actually fights against the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese.

    According to Hollywood, and now Broadway, no one in South Vietnamese wanted to live in a democracy, and yet 250,000 South Vietnamese fought and died for a free country, only to lose the chance for liberty when their U.S. ally abandoned them in 1975.

    In other words, more than five times as many South Vietnamese as Americans died fighting the Communists in the Vietnam War, but Hollywood and Broadway wrote them out of the story.

    The only way our ‘creative’ folks could pretty up America’s betrayal was to portray the South Vietnamese as the only people on Earth who don’t want to be free. In ‘Miss Saigon,’ here we go again.

    • Cpt_Justice

      That’s actually not true. “The Green Berets” is chock full of just those sorts of characters: South Vietnamese,with names, who fight the North Vietnamese. Of course, it was *also* an insanely one-sided pro-America view of the war in Vietnam, so maybe that counteracts it all.

  • Van Hong

    Write more shit, make it better, laugh at mediocre, outdated work. (Just added a few songs from grease to my recovery playlist, just for a laugh at the idiocy of rape culture, misogyny, to name a few. ) add South Pacific, West side story, fiddler, et al, to the same category of Things To Mock. Make more work, make more work. Draw, draw, draw. Support good work that supports our communities & nourishes our spirits, Allegiance , Hamilton, (even legally blonde 😀). Don’t complain dumb white folk make dumb white shit. Make better shit.

    • waltochter

      Don’t mock them. Acknowledge them as attempts to portray human stories with the best understanding that the creators had at the time. They shouldn’t be mocked or obliterated, but kept as classics and occasionally exhibited as signposts and milestones along the route of cultural, international, human understanding. We don’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve come from. Society evolves and so does its art. Except that its usually the artists who spur evolution.

  • Si Ho

    I see her point, but I disagree on most points. It’s based on an opera – Madama Butterfly – and THAT is the point of the musical. It’s not a story about the Vietnamese people, it’s a story about KIM to parallel with Cio-Cio San. The Vietnamese are portrayed in the way they are because at that time IN THAT STREET they were like that. You only need to go to Bangkok (I know that’s Thailand) to see the red light districts. Has the writer ever been to her family’s homeland? I doubt it. But they like to complain about the stereotype of this show and complain about white people telling it. Why aren’t they telling their own stories in stage and film, because I’m sure they’d be a hell of a lot more interesting than the ones the “white people” are coming up with.

    • Tom Shea

      They are telling those stories, but they don’t have the access that the Broadway/big regional power structure afords. That’s changing but needs to happen sooner.
      I think Miss Saigon is crap, but it would have been nice if the author had indeed acknowledged the source material. And come on, The Mikado isn’t about Japan.

    • Greg Watanabe

      A large problem is that Madam Butterfly is racist. It’s steeped in Orientalism and colonialism.

  • Dustin Lewis

    Love the musical that is fictional… based in truth of a group of people in a certain time. It’s a snap shot. Everything in the musical inthis “snap shot” of these lives at this time are based in truth. American soldiers did meet and have sex with Vietnamese woman… they did have children. Many of the Vietnamese people would give up anything for a better life … especially for their children in the US. This writer is blinded by their personal story and should indeed write their own story and share it with the works BUT in song that, don’t discount anyone else’s telling of the story. All of them have truth.

    • Vicky Nguyen

      You’re totally missing the point, which is that any time there is a story that includes Vietnamese people it always revolves around white people and depicts an image of Vietnamese people as sad or tragic, particularly Vietnamese women. Stories like ‘Miss Saigon’ are the main images that many Americans have of Vietnam and Vietnamese people, and sorry, but it’s inaccurate, and certainly not the whole picture. “Based in truth” is not truth. It’s a fantasy that white Americans have of the Vietnamese where we are not seen as people, but mere props or tragic figures for them to flagellate over.

      • Dustin Lewis

        I happen to know a few stories that are very much like this told by family members of Vietnamese that were caught in the terror of the war and they tell a story very close to what is portrayed and Miss Saigon. Just because it’s not your family’s personal story or history does not mean that it’s not a meaningful story.
        I think the great thing about art is that people can question and debate and I sincerely believe that if a certain person does not feel their side is being represented in a fair and real light then they have the opportunity to tell THEIR story.
        You are over generalizing. How can you disputed the fact that the things that happened in Miss Saigon happened to someone during that time and these people could have felt the way these characters felt?
        I have to say that Kim is actually an amazing strong character that is an unspeaksble circumstance.

        • Kevin Pan

          Dustin. Just don’t talk. Thanks

          • Teddy Nguyen

            Dustin has a point, let him talk. It’s more ignorant to dismiss a point of a view because it doesn’t fit your own personal narrative.

          • Greg Watanabe

            Dustin should also read and try and understand.
            “This is a yet another story about prostitutes, evil Vietnamese men, and white saviours.”
            “But it’s true that there were prostitutes, evil Vietnamese men, and white saviours.”
            “These are stereotypes that are repeated over and over to the exclusion of all other representation, which contributes to racism, sexism, and a distortion of the perception of the Viet community.”
            “Then tell your own story.”
            “Do now we have to talk about the systemic exclusion of Asian Pacific Islander South Asian American​s from apparatus that produces Broadway, regional theater, movies and television.
            Why do white people like to tell this story over and over again?”

          • Dustin Lewis

            I love it when you don’t hear what you want to hear or if someone else a different insight… I get “Please don’t talk” … I will continue to “talk” and just like you give my opinion and insight just like everyone else is on here. Just shows your character asking me to be silenced. That is not how to have a discussion. I would never say that to you or anyone else on here.

      • Kevin Pan

        Vicky ! I agree with you !

      • Gary Johnson

        I hate to tell you this but this musical was written and produced by the British. This is not an American musical.

  • Thank you writing this analysis.

    I’m not Vietnamese, not Asian, and have no stake in that story. I saw Miss Saigon in its original Broadway incarnation and hated it. What I saw on that stage was a reincarnation of Madame Butterfly, another piece of theater I abhor. The portrayal of women as victims, white guys at saviors, and whole ethnic groups as evil was repellent the first time, and remains so. That they resurrected this is simply horrifying.

    You’d like we, the audience, had come so much farther than that. Apparently not.

    The people of Vietnam deserve so much better than this portrayal of their culture, country, and tragedy of war. Thankfully, there are Vietnamese writers and playwrights actively working to change the perspective of that landscape.

    From strength to strength.

  • Becki Iverson

    Amazingly powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing. As a reviewer I always struggle with deconstructing scripts when seeing a show and this is a tour de force of how to do so. Please keep writing, we need your voice!

  • Lisa Holliday Osicky

    I think so much of this story is relatable. Who cannot imagine, or remember, a love who’s left and moved on? What mother cannot imagine sacrificing her life to save her child? I have never seen this as a Vietnamese story, rather as a human story. If I don’t think Cabaret tells me all I need to know about Germany, or Fiddler on the Roof all I should know about Judaism, why should I think Miss Saigon tells me the story of the Vietnamese people?

    • gwangung

      Relatable…meaning “universal”?

      But don’t we get to the universal through the details? And by not seeing this as a Vietnamese story, aren’t you proving the author’s point?

      • Cpt_Justice


    • Cpt_Justice

      Brace yourself: I have actually met someone who said (& this is a quote: “I know about Judaism; I saw “Fiddler on the Roof”.” I KID YOU NOT. Never underestimate the stupidity of your fellowman.

    • gohan

      Miss Saigon is like a nazis musical where nazis (who live in a perfect country) are portrayed as the good guys saving the poor jews (savages with no values) and a jew mum kills herself to “save” his baby sending him to Germany.

  • Keith Smith

    In growing up, was the author not exposed to opera? Miss Saigon is based on the opera Madama Butterfly by Puccini, which I just saw again in London. Likewise Rent is a re-staging of the opera La Boheme by Puccini.

    Butterfly was set in Japan, in an era of American imperialism. Miss Saigon transports the same ill fated love story to the environment of the tragic Vietnam war, and, to me, does communicate a feeling of the dehumanizing conditions being experienced by the Vietnamese people at that time.

    I like both Butterfly and Miss Saigon, but I like Miss Saigon more. La Boheme is one of my most favorite operas, but Rent does not do much for me.

    • Shelby

      Yes, Miss Saigon is based on Madama Butterfly but it is 2017. There are better stories we should be telling (and better storytellers).

      • *Guest*

        “it is 2017” isn’t a valid argument.

        • Andrew Jiang

          I think “We should be better story tellers and tell better stories” is a valid argument

      • Marc Gaba

        But then, there are millions who don’t even know that the Vietnam war happened. It’s good that they’re telling this (indeed flawed) story in 2017.

        • gohan

          But this musical doesn’t tell what happend. It’s just US propaganda disguised as a sexist and racist love story. Disgusting.