The revival of Miss Saigon hasn't had the best of weeks. The reviews since its opening night have been mixed to bad, the box office results haven't been impressive and now there might be a significant problem with their merchandise choices.
Last night, Diep Tran, an editor of American Theatre Magazine, went to see Miss Saigon and noticed one of the t-shirts being sold in the lobby, prominently featured Ho Chi Minh. It doesn't take a history scholar to understand why this would be a problem and so alarming, especially for Vietnamese people seeing the show.
Tran said in a Facebook post,
"So tonight I saw Miss Saigon on Broadway. In between all the Orientalism, the glamorization of prostitution, the white guilt and the marginalization of Vietnamese voices, I saw this at the gift stand.
They put Ho Chi Minh on a tshirt. And a water bottle. Ho Chi Minh, the main reason why there was even a civil war in Vietnam to begin with, a war where 3 million Vietnamese people died. Ho Chi Minh, the reason my father and the fathers of my Vietnamese friends, were drafted to fight in that civil war. Ho Chi Minh, who was the reason my father, and so many Vietnamese fathers and mothers, was jailed for six years after the Vietnam War. Ho Chi Minh, the reason that my family was forced to leave their homes and become refugees.
They put his face on a shirt and they are selling it. Imagine if they had put Stalin, Mao or Hitler's face on a shirt.....
Which goes to show you, Orientalist bullshit like Miss Saigon, King and I, The Mikado, it's not for Asian people. We are just there as raw material to make white people money and to make them feel like they were educated. They don't give a shit about our pain, our trauma, our stories. I bet most of them aren't inspired to pick up a book about the Vietnam War or learn about the refugee experience.
It's all so white people can put it on a t-shirt."
While Miss Saigon has garnered an enormous fan-base across all races, it remains a divided issue among Vietnamese people. While you may love it for its sweeping score or flying helicopter, many Vietnamese and Asians alike believe that this show perpetrates racial stereotypes and celebrates the "white savior" motif. That's a fair argument.
However you feel about the show itself, it's not hard to understand that seeing the leader of the North Vietnamese on a t-shirt could be seen as offensive. But it's also fair to say that "Uncle Ho" is a polarizing figure who is equally hated and celebrated in Vietnam today. In fact, in many school Vietnamese textbooks, students are taught to respect him and how he saved the country from Western oppressors.
Seeing how beloved he is in many Vietnamese circles, it's understandable why marketing teams thought that this was okay. But if they read into Vietnamese history, they probably would have seen that it wasn't. Hell, all they had to do was watch the show they were marketing for.
Regardless of where you stand on the Ho Chi Minh debate (which I'm thinking a lot of American audiences don't care either way), his image is controversial enough to make me think that putting it on Miss Saigon merchandise isn't the best idea.
Tran is right, you would never see Hitler's image on t-shirts when going to see The Diary of Anne Frank. You would see FDR sweatshirts at performances of Allegiance. It would be distasteful. So it's confusing to see why producers, who obviously know many Vietnamese and Asian people will see this show, would do anything to fan the flames of controversy.
For a production that, let's be honest, has to walk on eggshells in 2017, this isn't encouraging.