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Huntington, Levittown school musical targeted by protesters

The school productions of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" were offensive to Chinese-Americans, protesters said.

Protesters gather outside Huntington High School on Saturday

Protesters gather outside Huntington High School on Saturday in opposition of what they say is a racially offensive play. Photo Credit: Howard Simmons

About 40 people protested outside Huntington High School on Saturday against a  musical play taking place inside that they say is racist against Chinese-Americans.

One hour before showtime of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," protesters shouted at passers-by on McKay Road and held up signs that read “Racism is Not Entertainment” and “Racism on Stage Isn’t Supposed to be Entertainment for Others.”

The school production of the stage musical debuted Friday night, and a depiction of a character pretending to be Asian offended some adults in the audience, said Tianlu Lu, a Syosset mother.

“One hundred years ago, the Chinese in this country were at the bottom of society, and nobody cared that we were being made fun of,” Lu said. “But now, we want to stop this.”

A similar protest took place in Levittown on Saturday outside Division Avenue High School's production of the same musical, where another group of about 10 Asian-Americans voiced their opposition to the show, Lu said.

Word about the Huntington  musical circulated on the social media app WeChat on Friday night, Lu said, and people in the Chinese community decided to protest. 

Protesters started their demonstration in the high school's parking lot, but security staff moved them to just outside the entrance gate. 

District Superintendent Jim Polansky said in a statement the intention of the students and staff behind the production “was obviously never to disparage any individual or group."

"All are committed to viewing this as an educational opportunity — one that allows for open and productive discussion on any of the issues presented," Polansky said in the statement Sunday. 

The musical was to conclude its run with two performances Saturday. 

Levittown school district Superintendent Tonie McDonald did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.

"Thoroughly Modern Millie" takes place in the 1920s in New York City. The main character, Millie Dillmount, is a rural Kansas transplant who moves to the Big Apple for love and ends up outing a white slavery ring coordinated by a white woman disguising herself as a Chinese woman, according to online theater websites. The musical, based on a 1967 film starring Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore, debuted on Broadway in April 2002, according to Playbill.com.

"This is apparently a very popular play in high schools," Lu said. "But my goal is to make sure this show is never shown again — not on Broadway, not on Long Island, not anywhere."

Long Island Chinese American Association chairman Gordon Zhang said the musical should not be shown in part because its human trafficking tale creates a false narrative about white women being sold into sex slavery to China. 

“That doesn’t even happen,” Zhang said. “In fact actually, it’s the opposite that’s happening.”

With Jesse Coburn

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