How I Met Your Mother's Yellowface Controversy Explained

Marshall and Robin in How I Met Your Mother

It's clear that How I Met Your Mother never backed down when an opportunity came along to build on a long-running joke, but when the series circled back to the Slapsgiving gag in season 9, a certain episode stirred up a lot of controversy due to the unnecessary use of yellowface. Throughout the show, one thing that kept cropping back up every once in a while was the slap bet, something that Barney feared from Marshall.

While the slap bet was always a hilarious, its controversial elements came during How I Met Your Mother season 9, with the episode "Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra". As part of the slap bet, Marshall warned Barney that the next slap will hurt as much as humanly possible. The episode followed Marshall as he learned the "Slap of a Million Exploding Suns" from three masters. The masters were played by Ted, Robin, and Lily in Marshall's story, but they were put in yellowface to portray Asian characters.

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To act as though the trio were masters in Marshall's eyes, Ted, Robin, and Lily wore silk robes and spoke with Asian accents. To make matters worse, they put a Fu Manchu mustache on Ted to poke fun at stereotypes. The episode was meant to be a playful tribute to Kung Fu, but instead, it came off as inappropriate and downright ignorant to the Asian community and people of color. Some viewers defended the fact that the training took place in Marshall's head so it made sense why it was his friends who played the masters. Others, however, thought the storyline should have gone in an entirely different direction to avoid questionable depictions of underrepresented communities.

HIMYM Had Fan Backlash After The Yellowface Controversy

How I Met Your Mother

After the episode aired in January 2014, many viewers took to social media to call out How I Met Your Mother and their tasteless attempt at honoring Kung Fu. People pointed out the show's lack of diversity on-screen and in the writer's room. It was believed that this would have never happened if people of color were on the writing team. The fact that an all-white cast was chosen to depict martial arts masters was very troublesome in the eyes of a segment of fans. Viewers shared their dismay with the yellowface controversy with a #HowIMetYourRacism tag on Twitter.

How I Met Your Mother's co-creator, Carter Bays, was aware of the backlash and responded shortly after the episode aired. He shared on Twitter that "we set out to make a silly and unabashedly immature homage to Kung Fu movies, a genre we’ve always loved." In the end, the group realized that they offended people and they apologized for the trouble they caused. Bays also sent his appreciation to anyone who spoke up as it was a learning experience for all involved.

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