Ethnic stereotypes abound in popular shows of a certain vintage

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Ethnic stereotyping is popular culture’s original sin, and it’s proving a hard one to shed.

Look no further than the uproar over last weekend’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie’’ at Newton North High School. A storm erupted on social media and community blogs about the musical’s depiction of three Chinese characters (one of whom is masquerading as Chinese) who kidnap young women and sell them as sex slaves. The director of the organization that staged “Millie’’ apologized at a community meeting Monday.

It was the latest loud collision between the past and the present, a frequent occurrence in theater as a dated canon meets an increasingly diverse population. The very plays and musicals that outwardly seem like a good fit for high schoolers — because of their tunefulness and large casts and overall buoyancy — are often the most problematic in their depictions of nonwhite characters.

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