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Contemporary Performance Exposé

The Butterfly Trope: M Butterfly (1988) Readings: M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang


This paper aims to expose the role of Asian Americans in the theatre. The theatre has had a significant impact on the growth of the Asian American community because it is one of the only ways that Asians of all backgrounds can be recognized and honored for their contributions to theatre. Furthermore, the theatre has an immense impact on the culture of Asian Americans because the theatre is a community within a community.

David Henry Hwang is the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of M Butterfly (1988), a play that takes place within the realm of Asian-American life in the United States (Henry, 1988). The play deals with the Asian-American experience from the perspective of individuals living there and their cultural clash with the rest of the world. The play was written due to Hwang’s own experiences in life and his observations of his own life.

The theme of M Butterfly production is to promote Asian American voices. The theme of the production is that there is a need in Asian American communities for Asian voices to be heard and that those voices are not always heard, and the Asian American community needs to stand up and be heard. While this may seem like a prominent theme to the Asian American community, it is more complicated to identify and discover existing Asian American voices. The term Asian American describes a very diverse group of people. This diverse group includes individuals of diverse ethnicities, nationalities, and sexualities.

M Butterfly seeks to use an “other” as a voice of authority to speak to a contemporary audience. M Butterfly tells a story about two men-one, Asian-one White. The Asian man is a well-known artist in Japan who wants to meet a young White man in Marseille.

M Butterfly is an experimental dance-theatre piece that brings together the works of three choreographers who are all Korean American. M Butterfly was created by Robert Askins, who hails from Seoul, South Korea. The show was staged in 1998, and the lead dancer, David Henry Hwang (a.k.a. David Henry Sun), received the Tony Award and the Obie Award for the best performance by an actor in a leading role in a dance production.

This performance explores the issue of cultural appropriation by exploring the phenomenon of a white artist appropriating the identity of a minority, in this case, an Asian man in the role of a white woman. The character of M Butterfly is based on a real-life figure, a man who played the part of a woman in several films.

M Butterfly, in which the male protagonist is a Japanese “transsexual,” is an example of a contemporary theatre that seeks to address contemporary Asian American issues. M Butterfly has been described as “the most influential gay play in the 1990s” (Henry, 1988)) and has been on the boards for over fifteen years. The play has been staged across the United States and is now regarded as a seminal play for queer and Asian American issues.


The Asian American voice has been underrepresented in media for decades. With the rise of the Asian American community into a voice for social justice and progress, Asian Americans have also begun to use their new power to create a more positive and active representation of themselves in the media. Yet, the Asian American voice has only recently gotten into mainstream entertainment.


Henry III, W. (1988). Politics and Strange Bedfellows.” Rev. of M. Butterfly, by David Henry Hwang. Retrieved from: Butterfly.pdf


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