• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 4:13am
NewsHong Kong

‘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An advertisement for domestic helper insurance starring a Chinese man as a Filipino maid has been withdrawn after it was condemned as racist – but the bank responsible insisted it never intended to cause offence.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The bank confirmed it had withdrawn the advertisement, but stopped short of an apology.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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This article is now closed to comments

Turn the tables and the Chinese are up in arms at the slightest aspersion about their race. Time they learned some sensitivity about other races.
People need to get over just saying everything about maids is racist! It is just an add done to catch people's attention and it accomplished that. They thought outside the box and were willing to take a risk.
Stop treating domestic helpers like abused people and see them as people. I have been to Philippines many times they are not above making fun of foreigners.
Growing up in Canada you are taught never to make fun of another race. But after living in Asia and traveling around you find out everyone makes fun of each other and that is what makes life more interesting.
People should not live in a bubble and be scared to talk. Let people speak and let everyone be more accepting. That is the point of free speech. Without free speech life is boring.
Daniel Lee
The advert is just funny much like the Pink Panther skits. There isn't anything overtly racist about it. Those people who find it racist are probably overly sensitive and don't have a sense of humour.
Stop carrying around your own racial baggage and think about why other races in SE Asia don't like the Chinese. Could it be a reaction to Chinese exclusiveness and cultural arrogance?
Much ado about nothing.
Have a laugh and stop being so sensitive.
Are you dreaming? There's no way you could get a white actor to put on blackface and parody a poor black maid in America and not cause a firestorm of criticism -- and with good reason. Remember the ad with an Asian girl - but with a conical hat and a bad accent? Americans howled over that until it was taken off the air the politician made to apologize.
Anyway, even if it were OK in America (which it DEFINITELY is not), it still would not justify it in Hong Kong.
By the way, Erwiana is Indonesian, not Filipina.
And expecting not to be physically tortured at work is not exactly holding a "grudge"
yeah maybe i would find it funny if filipina maids were generally treated with respect by local employers.... but they're not. blacking up and making them the butt of a joke is pretty pathetic.
The best comedy CHALLENGES stereotypes.... it doesn't reinforce them.
Why did the Post put the word "racist" in quotes? Blackface is prima facie evidence, and then there's the rest of it: the implication of simplemindedness, the smug class bias. This is just appalling, and to say this response is overly sensitive is just depressingly lacking in empathy.
Also, on a purely technical level, it's a very poorly made ad. I guess that's to be expected, given the knuckle dragging minds that conceived it.
People who say people need to get over something are inevitably people who aren't targeted by that something.
And oh yeah, here in Asia we have such a jolly time making fun of each other. No tensions at all.
Dai Muff
Yes.; How strange China did not find this one "funny".



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