Singapore broadcaster MediaCorp slammed for gay character’s portrayal in Chinese drama series
- My Guardian Angels featured a gay basketball coach with a sexually transmitted disease who preyed on young boys
- Netizens flooded the Instagram accounts of MediaCorp and the actors, demanding an apology
Singapore’s national free-to-air broadcaster, MediaCorp, has come under fire after portraying a gay character in a manner that some have called “extremely harmful” to the LGBT community.
In April, MediaCorp’s Channel 8 screened a Mandarin-language TV drama called My Guardian Angels. The show included a gay character who was portrayed not only as a predatory paedophile, but a paedophile with a sexually transmitted disease – which he later spreads to a boy he assaults.
The news quickly went viral after gay Singaporean artist and activist Heckin’ Unicorn – real name Teo Yu Sheng, 29 – called MediaCorp out on Instagram. Teo highlighted various scenes in My Guardian Angels that he said were homophobic, including the seven-episode arc where the gay character in question, played by actor Chase Tan, preys on young boys.
Since then, internet users have taken to social media to express their anger, flooding not just MediaCorp with vitriol and calls for a boycott, but also the actors of My Guardian Angels.
“Address the issue properly. It’s not that difficult,” said one commenter on an unrelated post on MediaCorp’s Instagram page.
Some were more blunt: “You’re f****** cancelled.”
For his part, actor Tan posted an apology on his Instagram account soon after the controversy began.
“I’m deeply saddened that the role I played has caused distress in the community and I’d like to emphasise that it was never my intention,” reads his post from July 3. “I’m an aspiring actor and every opportunity given to me is precious. I do not mean to disrespect anyone in the process.”
Despite the vitriol that they have received on their Instagram accounts, Tan’s fellow actors on the show, Kym Ng and Brandon Wong, have so far remained silent on the matter.
In a lengthy post on Teo’s LGBT-themed e-commerce platform also called Heckin’ Unicorn, he speculates that this might be because the two actors are managed by MediaCorp-owned The Celebrity Agency. A protest in the form of a comic strip was also posted on the site earlier in July.
MediaCorp itself has issued several statements on the matter – including one in the form of an Instagram comment and another in an official media release that was provided to the Post – but some people, including Teo, say it isn’t enough.
“Their first responses contained no apology – this suggests that their first instinct was that there isn’t a need to apologise,” Teo says. “Their second response – which contained a half-apology – was only posted after we posted the comic two weeks later.
“Their third response, which contained a proper apology, was only made to the press, and not on their social media accounts. It seems like they finally knew that people weren’t happy with their first two responses – but their solution, instead of offering a sincere apology, was to publish it on a medium where they can’t get direct feedback.”
That third and so far final response also contained numerous “explanations” for My Guardian Angel’s controversial plot lines, Teo says.
In the show, characters played by actors Ng and Wong fret about their son’s sexuality: Ng’s character even goes as far as to stalk her son when she suspects that he’s gay, and displays visceral relief when she finds out that he’s interested in a girl. She later warns him not to do anything “inappropriate” – implying that she considers being gay inappropriate.
In its official statement to the media, MediaCorp said this was to “depict the real life struggles some parents face” when it comes to talking about relationships and sexual orientation with their kids.
As for the “gay paedophile” trope used with Tan’s character, MediaCorp said that this was to encourage young people to “be aware of potential dangers”. It also said it had “depicted paedophiles preying on young girls in other dramas”.
While Teo says that the latest statement is a “step in the right direction”, it doesn’t undo the harm that MediaCorp has done.
“Unlike straight characters, LGBTQ+ people are not allowed to be portrayed positively on free-to-air TV [in Singapore]. This means that while audiences get to see both good and bad straight characters on TV, they’ll only see bad LGBTQ+ characters – as long as MediaCorp continues writing them,” he says.
“As the only free-to-air TV broadcaster in Singapore, MediaCorp plays a big role in shaping the public perception of the LGBTQ+ community here. I really hope they will understand the power that their actions have on a community that is already marginalised on so many fronts. It’s understandable that they can’t help, but it really hurts when they keep piling on to the discrimination.”
In a statement to the Post following publication of this report, MediaCorp said it “would like to clarify that there was no specific mention of the sexual orientation of the paedophile character in the drama. Instead, the portrayal was that of a paedophile.”