Miss Golightly! They protest!
An Asian-American group is demanding that a screening of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” at Brooklyn Bridge Park next month be canceled — saying the flick’s caricature of a bumbling Japanese man infamously played by Mickey Rooney is racist and offensive.
The classic Audrey Hepburn film is scheduled to be shown on Aug. 11 as part of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy’s free outdoor “Movies With a View” series — but an online petition and the threat of a protest could cancel the show.
“It’s outrageous that public funding would sponsor a film like that,” said Ursula Liang, a Bronx documentarian who launched the petition against the screening. “It’s not appropriate to show in this day and age.”
The 1961 hit — known best for Hepburn’s role as a New York socialite — features Rooney in “yellowface” as Mr. Yunioshi, a buck-toothed, bumbling neighbor who speaks with an exaggerated Japanese accent.
To some, watching the portrayal is painful — and they don’t want others to have to suffer through it.
“To show this movie without any public recognition of how damaging such caricatures are to our entire community is highly insensitive and socially irresponsible,” said Marcie Chin, a South Slope resident.
Chin, along with several other Brooklynites, said that they e-mailed the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, which runs the free summer film series, but received the same boilerplate response: the movie will stay.
“ ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is a beloved movie, with one irredeemable, superfluous scene from an era in Hollywood when more overt racism was acceptable in movies than it is today,” a spokeswoman wrote.
Nancy Webster, executive director of the conservancy, said that she hopes to address people’s concerns, but hasn’t decided how just yet.
“We appreciate hearing people’s views about our programming, whether they are critical or supportive,” she said. “We trust our audience to use their own judgment about what is appropriate for their families.”
Not all Asian-Americans agree that banning the film is the best way to address its racism.
Jeff Yang, a Park Slope resident and pop-culture columnist, said that a slam poet or standup comic could “fight fire with fire” and elucidate what Rooney’s depiction means to Asian-Americans today.
“Most who see the film will see it for what it is — an unfortunate reflection of people’s misperceptions of Asians in that era,” Yang said. “I don’t think they’re going to be laughing and joining the fun.”
This isn’t the first time movies in the park have caused a ruckus. Last summer, Brooklyn Heights residents complained that the screenings were too loud, and in 2008 — when the series was held in Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park — the state wouldn’t allow the showing “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a movie which featured a transsexual punk rocker.
This year’s summer film series, held on Pier 1’s Harbor View Lawn, receives funding from the Department of Cultural Affairs.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” at Pier 1 [Old Fulton Street at Furman Street in DUMBO, (718) 802-0603], Aug. 11 with seating starting at 6 pm and the movie beginning after sunset. Free. For info, visit www.brooklynbridgepark.org.