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Kumiko Mendl: Print Room casting row proves theatre is ‘property of white privilege’

Kumiko Mendl Kumiko Mendl
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The artistic director of a leading British East Asian theatre company has criticised the industry for being the “property of white privilege”.

Kumiko Mendl, artistic director of Yellow Earth Theatre, was responding to the fact a play being staged at the Print Room in west London, that is set in ancient China, features an all-white cast playing characters with Chinese names.

A protest about the casting of Howard Barker’s In the Depths of Dead Love is scheduled to take place outside the venue on press night on January 19.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme, Mendl said the casting decision was “indicative of small theatre thinking”.

“We are in 2017 and casting should be reflecting society as it is now,” she said.

She added: “I feel that theatre in this country is very much the area or the property of white privilege.”

Mendl added that the Print Room was unlikely to have cast all-white actors in a play set in a “mythical country in Africa” but added: “It still feels fine for them to cast white people in East Asian roles as we are not visible.”

Mendl highlighted how there is no Chinese family in EastEnders, despite the fact the soap has run for more than 30 years.

“We are not part of the mainstream. People are not that aware of our community,” she said.

Mendl was joined on the programme by Deborah Williams, executive director of the Creative Diversity Network.

Williams said it took longer for “smaller groups” to “create the critical mass to be heard, accepted and understood”, adding that black actors were only now being represented on screen.

Earlier this week, a letter emerged that was sent by the Print Room to its supporters, in which it claimed it had been attacked on social media and would not be changing its artistic policy.

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