Breakfast at Tiffany’s Screening Protested for Racism


“Moon River” by the river? Maybe not. An online petition is asking people to boycott the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy’s August 11 Syfy Movies With A View showing of the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Brooklyn Paper reports. Calling the film “horribly offensive” in the petition, an Asian-American group points to Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi, Holly Golightly’s screaming, squinting landlord, who pronounces his Ls as Rs.

The petition reads:

Why any publicly funded organization in a city where 1-in-8 residents are Asian-American or any channel with a huge Asian-American viewership would choose to show a film with a racist caricature like this is beyond me. It’s not funny; It’s not classic; It’s not beloved to us. By screening this film, the organizers are sanctioning the racism it contains, and subjecting new audiences (including children and Asian-Americans) to a minstrel show of racist ideology. It’s 2011. It’s New York. Do we still have to fight the hostile, hurtful world of 1961 Hollywood?

As of press time the petition had 206 signatures.

Rooney’s performance has long been deemed racist and offensive, a blight on a film that has otherwise been a mainstream pop culture sensation. For all the idolization of Audrey Hepburn’s glamour, which made the film’s poster a dorm room staple, Rooney’s caked-on makeup and over-the-top accent prompts an “Oh my God, how could they do this?” reaction. As many times as television shows like Gossip Girl and Glee mimic the film, it was also named the most racist movie on Complex’s 2010 list of the 50 most. Complex cited the Yunioshi character, saying “in the history of inexplicable Hollywood racism, Breakfast at Tiffany’s takes the motherfuckin’ rice cake.”

But, as the petition notes, a public screening of the movie has created controversy before. In 2008 the movie was replaced by the kid-friendly and only possibly offensive to rats and French people Ratatouille at a Sacramento screening. According to blogger Angry Asian Man, organizers had originally planned to amend the film by showing it with the Yunioshi scenes deleted, but eventually scrapped the whole thing.

The film is a tricky one. While the Yunioshi character is undoubtedly dated and horrible, the movie persists for a reason. Mind you, it is by no means Audrey Hepburn’s best role (and, in fact, source material author Truman Capote wanted
Marilyn Monroe to play Holly), but her performance has incited romantic fantasies across generations. So where does reconciliation happen?

For now, the Conservancy is not making any changes to programming.