‘Blackface’ advert where Chinese man plays Filipina maid sparks race row in Hong Kong

Malaysian bank pulls video featuring Chinese actor playing a Filipino domestic helper

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 1:35pm
 

An advertisement for domestic helper insurance starring a Chinese man as a Filipino maid has been withdrawn after it was condemned as racist – but the bank responsible insisted it never intended to cause offence.

The advertisement for Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank caused outrage on social media and was condemned by domestic helpers’ rights groups. It showed the actor wearing dark orange make-up and a curly wig as he portrayed a clumsy maid named “Maria”. The same actor plays her employer.

Watch: Insurance commercial depicting a male Chinese actor as a Filipina maid

The bank confirmed it had withdrawn the advertisement, but stopped short of an apology.

“We regret that our recent advertisement … resulted in comments about the advertisement being racist,” said spokeswoman Norlina Yunus. “At no time did Hong Leong … intend to offend any person or be to any extent discriminatory on grounds of race, sex or otherwise.”

At no time did Hong Leong … intend to offend any person or be to any extent discriminatory on grounds of race, sex or otherwise
Hong Leong spokeswoman Norlina Yunus

The advertisement row comes amid growing concern about the treatment of domestic helpers and of the dangers of racial stereotyping.

“You are making comedy out of someone, out of a community,” said Eni Lestari, spokeswoman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body. “For [Hongkongers] it’s funny, but what they don’t realise is what’s funny is actually racist.”

Lestari questioned why the bank did not hire someone from Indonesia or the Philippines to play the maid.

The Equal Opportunities commission was critical of the ad, saying:

"The EOC disapproves of the stereotypical portrayal of domestic helpers in the advertisement and regrets that it has offended the migrant workers community."

It cautioned advertisers saying they should ensure "respect for human dignity, irrespective of race and ethnicity."

Posters on the bank’s Facebook page called for a boycott.

“The advertisement featuring a domestic worker in ‘blackface’ is racist and deeply offensive. It is simply dehumanising,” wrote Yael Marwah.

“Why do you have to solidify the omnipresent racial and cultural stereotypes?” added Marcin Rutecki.

The row comes only weeks after anger over textbooks that asked children to match people of different races to particular jobs. It also follows a series of high-profile cases involving the abuse of domestic helpers.

Others took to Twitter and Facebook to blast the advert.

“You guys should really take down that ad and apologise for it ... It’s really not appropriate for a professional representation of your financial services,” Kahlil Stultz wrote on the bank’s Facebook page.

“Why do you have to solidify the omnipresent racial and cultural stereotypes that are hurting so many people?” added Marcin Rutecki.

The row comes weeks after separate controversy over a Hong Kong school textbook, which critics said encouraged children to racially stereotype their neighbours.

The book asked children to match nationalities to the “appropriate” job description – such as Indonesian for domestic helpers, or Japanese for sushi restaurant owners.

The case of Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who allegedly endured a months-long torture campaign by her Hong Kong boss, has put a spotlight on the working conditions faced by the financial hub’s domestic workers.

Her employer, a 44-year-old mother-of-two, is on trial and last week denied all the charges against her.

Amnesty International last year condemned the “slavery-like” conditions faced by some of the city’s domestic helpers and accused authorities of “inexcusable” inaction.

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