Mediacorp and Havas open up on chastised ad with actor playing different races

An advertisement by e-payment company E-Pay has gotten netizens riled up on social media for being insensitive for featuring Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew impersonating different races - with darkened skin tones. Chew, who is known for cross-dressing and Channel 8 character Auntie Lucy, was seen dressing as a Malay women in a head scarf and an Indian man with darkened skin. He also played the role of a Chinese woman in the same ad.

The ad which caught traction over the weekend questioned why people of the actual races were not engaged instead of having one person play different roles.

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Influencer and comedian Preetipls has also taken a jab at Mediacorp in a music video. It has gotten 4,000 views and near to 150 shares on Facebook within two hours of posting.

In a joint statement to Marketing, Mediacorp's celebrity management arm The Celebrity Agency and Havas Worldwide said, the message behind this advertising campaign was that e-payment is for everyone. For that reason, Dennis Chew, well-known for his ability to portray multiple characters in a single production in a light-hearted way, was selected as the face of the campaign and he appears as characters from different walks of life in Singapore, bringing home the point that everyone can e-pay.

Noting that the campaign unfortunately was not executed in the manner it should have been, the statement added, "We’re sorry for any hurt that was unintentionally caused. Behind the ad is an initiative to provide greater convenience to consumers, merchants and small food businesses."

This is not the first time issues around race and blackface has cropped up in ads and entertainment in the region.

In May 2017, Mediacorp was slapped with a fine of SG$5,500 by the IMDA for a segment on an episode of Toggle’s Chinese-language web drama series “I Want To Be A Star” as it came under fire for use of "black face" makeup on a Chinese actor to portray an individual of African American descent. Meanwhile, last year, a skit on the CCTV Spring Festival Gala has come under fire by netizens depicting a Chinese actress adorned in blackface makeup and costume on national television, while screaming “I love China”. The comedy skit intended to commemorate Chinese-African ties and initially saw a dance number featuring several dancers who appear to be of African descent.

And across the border, Astro’s MeleTOP, a Malaysian TV show, had to apologised for a parody video of Yuna and Usher’s song collaboration called “Crush”.  This followed a social media uproar criticising the parody for featuring an actor with “blackface” makeup posing as American singer Usher. The video saw a woman portraying Yuna bowing in front of the “blackface” comedian, instead of hugging which Yuna copped flak for recently at a concert with Usher. Twitter users have been quick to criticise the entertainment show for giving a bad name to Malaysians, with some even urging the local singer to take action against the programme for the racist content.

Globally as well, the issue hasn't been eradicated with luxury brand Gucci also having to apologised and take down a black polo neck sweater from its online and physical stores, after it caused an outrage online on its racial profiling of the “blackface” imagery.