Malaysian mandopop singer apologises for brownface stunt in music video

Malaysian mandopop singer Choo Haoren has apologised for causing an uproar online over his latest music video featuring a Chinese woman wearing brownface to depict a tanned character. Choo copped flak online for an music video featuring a female lead, portrayed by Instagrammer Qiu Wen, who gets bullied for having tanned skin. Although Choo has deleted the music video from his social media platforms, copies of it are currently circulating online, including on YouTube.

The music video shows the female receiving a note saying "You are so dark, does your Mum know?". Frustrated by the teasing, the female protagonist attempts to rid of her tanned skin using an eraser. Then comes the male protagonist who has a crush on her and secretly sends her skin lightening remedies including soy milk and whitening drink sachets, with notes saying "Drink this and you'll be come fair". The music video also featured the skin whitening product Snowbebe. The girl eventually becomes fair and falls in love with another male. Netizens criticised Choo for being racist and called the video "insulting". Some also added that they could not believe they were still having such conversations about brownface and race in 2021.

Choo apologised in a video and clarified that his main intention of the video was to highlight the effects of sunburnt skin. "It was never my intention to make fun of skin colour or touch on any racially sensitive topics. I sincerely apologise if I have offended anyone," he said. He also explained that the storyline meant to showcase the female protagonist taking care of her sunburnt skin, especially in a country such as Malaysia where it is easy for consumers to become sunburnt. 

According to him, the storyline revolves around the female protagonist who gets teased for her tanned skin and starts trying out different types of skin whitening remedies, including the whitening drink sachets. She eventually becomes fair and falls in love with a guy who she assumes was the one who had been sending her the skin whitening products. They eventually start dating but the male is later found to have been stealing the skin whitening products that the male protagonist sent to the female protagonist. The female eventually finds out it was the male protagonist who sent her the products.

"Actually, everyone has overlooked the fact I had been meaning to express in this music video, which was that the male protagonist was in love with the female despite her sunburnt skin. This was also an important point I wanted to express," he said. Choo reiterated in the video that it was never his intention to make fun of skin colour or touch on racial issues. According to him, the music video will be reedited and uploaded after he has reviewed the content. 

"We live in a multiracial country and I'm still on the continuous journey of learning when it comes to topics on racism. I absolutely do not support racial discrimination. This time round, the concept behind my work is immature and gave people the wrong idea," he said, adding that he has learnt from his mistakes and will think through his ideas carefully. Despite his apology, netizens were still outraged by the video. Many commented on Choo's Instagram that he should educate himself about brownface using the resources available online. Some also said his music video fuels the "toxic idea" that in order for a tanned person to feel beautiful and be loved, his or her skin has to be whitened. Meanwhile, some brands that work with Choo include Ecolite Boostick, MackZack Food, and Guan Heong Biscuit Shop.

Companies have come under fire over the past few years for brownface and blackface portrayal. Last year, Malaysian production house Zeel Production apologised for the use of blackface during the filming of Dayang Senandung, which is based on a Malay folklore. Meanwhile, Watsons Malaysia also sparked a debated online in 2017 after its 15-minute Legenda Cun Raya ad portrayed a blackface lady as unattractive. Across the causeway, an ad bby e-payment company E-Pay got netizens riled up on social media in 2019 for being insensitive after it featured 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.

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