Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Suzie Wong and Holly Golightly are names that resonate strongly in Hollywood History as both stylish and iconic female protagonists. Comparing them might seem strange but there are, in fact, several threads that connect both “The World of Suzie Wong" and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s". The first is that both movies are taken directly from popular and well-received novellas written by “establishment" male authors. In addition, both films create a youthful image of urbane women built on complete subterfuge with fashion being a main tool of that misdirection. And finally, the main characters in both films are, in the end, engaged in “the world's oldest profession" that is sex work to make a living.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s Movie Poster
Given this, it is not surprising that not everyone was happy with “Breakfast at Tiffany's. None other than the novella’s author Truman Capote, who disliked Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, said to a biographer
“...the film (is) a valentine to free-spirited women rather than a cautionary tale about a little girl lost in the big city. The movie is a confection — a sugar and spice confection."1
Misogynistic or not, Capote has a point. The novella’s darker tones are almost completely lost in the Hollywood production. In many ways, Suzie Wong is a more balanced portrayal of life in Hong Kong than Holly’s Upper East Side of Manhattan. None the less both films are remembered more for their fashion then for their realism. Suzie’s Cheongsams / 長衫 and Holly’s “Little Black Dresses" are passed down to us without critique as if appearing out of nowhere disconnected from the reality that inspired them.
This FIFTH edition of “Chasing the Ghost of Suzie Wong" mini film festival will try and close the lope between World of Suzie Wong and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Trigger Warning: Earlier in this festival, I warned everyone that this series could offend. BAT has one of the WORST portrayals of both “Yellowface" and racist stereotype in a postwar Hollywood film with the character of I. Y. Yunioshi. Watching this character is truly cringe-worthy so please be alert to the portrayal of Holly’s Japanese landlord in the film. As an “antidote" of sorts, I’m including a link to a video produced specifically to address this characterization by the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. It’s only 17 minutes long and well worth watching.