Hong Kong broadcaster airs blackface scene, months after racism controversy

  • In an episode of the sitcom ‘Come Home Love: Lo and Behold’ aired Monday, one scene showed a funeral service that mimicked dancing Ghanaian pallbearers
  • TVB said the characters wore special make-up for a dramatic story plot and that it was not the broadcaster’s intention to “disrespect or to discriminate against any persons”
Agence France-Presse |

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In the episode, four people are seen wearing black make-up while singing and dancing as they carry a coffin out of a room at a memorial. Photo: YouTube

One of Hong Kong’s top broadcasters has aired a TV show with some characters in blackface, just months after it was accused of racism for putting an actor in brownface.

Blackface is considered highly offensive and racist in many parts of the world – especially in North America – but several skin-darkening controversies have popped up across Asian entertainment in recent years.

In an episode of the sitcom Come Home Love that aired Monday, one scene showed a funeral service that mimicked the dancing Ghanaian pallbearers that went viral on social media a few years ago.

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Except, the actors in the show on TVB – Hong Kong’s largest free TV broadcaster – had their faces painted black.

TVB said Wednesday that the characters “wore special make-up” for a “dramatic story plot” and that their “faces were made dirty by the exhaust gas of a vehicle”. “It was never our intention to show disrespect or to discriminate (against) any persons.”

The channel did not offer an apology in its statement. It also did not explain why that storyline was linked to the dancing Ghanaian pallbearers, who are black, and why blackface was needed for a play on the meme. There was no widespread social media response or criticism in Hong Kong over the episode.

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In April, TVB broadcast a series in which actors darkened their skin to portray people from the Philippines.

That caused outrage, particularly in the city’s large Filipino community, and TVB apologised. Then too, there was no wave of criticism locally, and the series got favourable reviews with no discussion of race.

Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission told Agence France-Presse that “imitation or disguise cannot, and should not, be automatically equated with sarcasm, ridicule, or discrimination”. “Having said that, producers and artists ought to take heed of sensitive social issues so as not to be seen as irresponsible,” the EOC added.

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Similar controversies have surfaced in other Asian countries.

Last year, a Malaysian pop star apologised for using a darkened woman in a music video that promoted a skin-whitening product.

Singapore’s state-owned broadcaster apologised in 2019 for an ad featuring an actor of Chinese origin with his skin darkened.

A long-running TV series in the Philippines also received criticism for darkening three light-skinned actors who were playing characters from the indigenous Aeta communities.

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