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Watsons Malaysia’s blackface Raya ad labelled racist by netizens

Watsons Malaysia’s “Legenda Cun Raya” campaign has sparked a debate online after an ad nearly 15 minutes long portrayed a “blackface” lady as unattractive.

Filmed in Bahasa Melayu with English subtitles, the controversial ad which has gone viral within hours of being posted on social media, tells a story of how legendary princesses and beauties audition to impress a rich merchant named Al-Kazam.

At around the 9-minute mark, the protagonist Al-Kazam hears a beautiful voice singing and notices a mysterious lady passing by. Her face is covered with a long head scarf and the merchant asks her to show him her face. She dutifully complies and upon her revealing her face, which was obviously painted with black make up, Al-Kazam and those present at his courtyard gasp in horror clearly, because her face is so dark. He then candidly asks if the lighting is missing.

To make the matter worse, this campaign features some of Malaysia’s biggest personalities and celebrities starring in it such as Uqasha Senrose, Kamal Adli, Raja Ilya, Ruhainies, Sasha Saidin, Amber Chia, Thanuja and Alvin Chong. The film as such, received backlash from netizens and has quickly garnered more than 240,000 views, just hours after it was put up on Facebook. While the official Watsons ad has been removed, here’s a quick look of the video circulating online.

Netizens have called out the ad deeming it “racist”, “insensitive” and “tasteless”. Some of the comments posted on Twitter are as follow:

UPDATE: Watsons has also released a statement regarding the spot. It said:

“We stand firm on the belief that unity and fairness plays an important role, and we respect people from all nationalities. The video was shot to highlight the Legend and its moral values of inner beauty and that true love exists. We are sorry that some of our fans feel offended by the video which was not our intention. We take feedback from our fans seriously. Your continued support will be greatly appreciated and any feedbacks from you will help in improving our services.”

Unfortunately, the apology too has run into some trouble with netizens. Many have called it a non apology and showed their outrage that the brand is “blaming [people] for being offended”. Others have said the “apology doesn’t sound sincere”.

You’re making it sound like as if you’re still right and we’re the ones with the problem being sensitive and all,” said another Facebook user.

Meanwhile, rival Guardian Malaysia posted a similar ad for its Raya campaign yesterday. The ad has gotten 506,000 views and 507 shares, at the time of writing.

The four minutes and 30 seconds ad was created by BBDO Malaysia and depicts a similar story line where a prince was saved by a shy lady named Bawang Merah with a lovely voice. However, she was perceived to be not as beautiful due to her dusky skin.

But this time around, the seemingly forward thinking prince said he didn’t mind her skin colour, expressing that a pure heart is more important.

Check out the twist to the ending in the ad below:

Ironically enough, despite not caring about her skin tone, the prince still takes her to the Guardian store right before their wedding to purchase some whitening products – including sunblock and face whitening cream. Nonetheless, most netizens took the ad positively describing the video as creative and funny.

“We wanted to create something that is deeply rooted in local culture and traditions, but also fresh enough to impress our audience. I’m glad the team made it happen. The combination of Wayang Kulit, the folklore, and comedic twists makes this film truly beautiful,” said Christina Low, marketing director of Guardian Malaysia.

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