This article studies Breakfast at Tiffany’s (dir. Blake Edwards, US, 1961) to examine the constitutive role Mickey Rooney’s yellowface performance of Mr. Yunioshi plays in shoring up the infamous brand of white femininity embodied by Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly. In contradistinction to popular readings that view Yunioshi as a regrettable mark on an otherwise untainted film, the essay shows how the character of Yunioshi served not merely as a comedic stereotype but as a technology of race, sexuality, and gender that helped mediate the problems the producers encountered in their adaptation of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella. The film de-queered the novella, erasing its fantasies of white/black miscegenation and funneling these racial and sexual anxieties onto the specter of Asianness. In place of Capote’s original vision, the film preoccupied itself with defining an aspirational, urban, independent white hetero femininity that indexed several entangled biopolitical concerns of the early 1960s: the remnants of the lavender scare, the burgeoning feminist movement, and the changing status of whiteness in postwar America. The essay explores the way in which this white femininity was produced over and against the comedic qualities of Rooney’s Asian caricature. It situates the film in a cycle of postwar Paramount films preoccupied with white/Asian romances and Cold War orientalism and also outlines the significant publicity measures, generated by multiple players in Breakfast at Tiffany’s production, which helped to sustain these particular racial fictions.
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Research Article| December 01 2017
Melissa Phruksachart; The Many Lives of Mr. Yunioshi:Yellowface and the Queer Buzz of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Camera Obscura 1 December 2017; 32 (3 (96)): 93–119. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-4205088
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