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“How I Met Your Mother” episode sparks racial controversy

January 23rd, 2014

Last Monday, Jan. 13, CBS aired an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” that included several main characters portraying offensive Asian stereotypes. The network received almost immediate backlash from its viewers. The controversy garnered its own hashtag on Twitter, with users referring to the episode as #HowIMetYourRacism.

The controversial episode, entitled “Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra,” depicted Marshall Eriksen, played by Jason Segel, traveling the world to learn from the masters of the so-called art of slapping. Intended to be a tribute to martial arts movies, the episode featured three white cast members playing Asian stereotypes.

Actors Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders and Alyson Hannigan dressed in stereotypical Asian costumes and makeup known as “yellowface.”

Viewers were offended not only by the way in which members of the Asian community were represented, but also by the use of non-Asian actors to portray them.

Soon after the episode aired, offended viewers posted their complaints on Twitter.

@suey_park wrote, “I used to watch @HowIMetMother but I now refuse to and hope they apologize for yellowface. #HowIMetYourRacism”

@shereenTshafi wrote, “Really, #HIMYM?? You couldn’t even bring yourself to hire Asian actors for this?”

Kai Ma, former editor in chief of indie monthly KoreAm and Time contributor, discussed these offensive yet familiar stereotypes in an article for Time Ideas.

Ma wrote, “These are caricatures that have been plaguing Asian Americans for generations.” She also criticized the show’s general lack of minority cast members. “What’s problematic here—other than the lazy writing—is that HIMYM doesn’t feature Asians or people of color in its regular rotation.”

A writer for the show, Shaker Heights’ Carter Bays, took to Twitter to explain the episode and its original intent. He wrote, “With Monday’s episode, we set out to make a silly and unabashedly immature homage to Kung Fu movies, a genre we’ve always loved.” He also apologized for the episode’s content. “But along the way we offended people. We’re deeply sorry, and we’re grateful to everyone who spoke up to make us aware of it.”

In a CNN segment discussing the controversy, the history of racist Asian characters in the film and television industries was addressed. Examples included characters from “Sixteen Candles” and, more recently, “Modern Family” and “The Hangover.”

CNN anchor Don Lemon said, “You have to admit, though, that ‘Modern Family’ car driving thing was pretty funny,” referring to a clip of an Asian woman driving very poorly, in reference to another Asian stereotype.

CNN correspondent Tom Foreman responded, “It’s a difficult topic for people to talk about, because one minute you say ‘Yeah, it’s funny, you got to admit it’ and then other people say ‘That’s the problem.’”

Despite the negative attention and harsh criticism received from viewers, the episode remains available for purchase on iTunes and for viewing on cbs.com.

Editor’s Note: Information in this article was taken from CNN, Mediate, Time Ideas and Truth Revolt.