MY production house apologises for blackface in drama, filming will continue

Local production house Zeel Production has apologised for the use of blackface during the filming of Dayang Senandung, which is based on a Malay folklore. This came shortly after a TikTok video circulating online showed actress Wani Kayrie dancing while wearing blackface make up. The actress also posted on Instagram Stories that she was filming Dayang Senandung.

Enraged netizens criticised the use of blackface as racist and a petition surfaced online demanding for the drama's production to cease. The petition had over 23,800 signatures out of 25,000 at the time of writing and explained that the plot is "frustrating" and "outdated", and conveys a negative connotation concerning those with dark skin.

In an Instagram post, Zeel Production expressed its sincere apologies regarding the TikTok video, adding that it is truly aware that the video has offended many individuals. "We don’t have any intentions to create the controversial blackface issue. Instead our actress was painted in dark makeup so as to resemble the character in the drama. It has nothing to do with any races nor [did it intend] to violate human rights," the production house explained.

It also apologised for any inconvenience caused which have irked and upset many people. "However, now the situation has become an unnecessary uproar on social media," the production house added. The traditional Malay story tells of a princess cursed with black skin at birth. However, a prince decides to marry her without setting his eyes on her as he was captivated by her voice after hearing her sing. When the prince's mother attempts to kill the princess, she flees and gives birth to a baby. Thereafter, the curse was lifted and the princess's skin was no longer black. Zeel Production explained in the Instagram post that the new version of Dayang Senandung highlights the empowerment of achieving our goals regardless of the skin colour, which should not be perceived as a boundary.

"This new version of Dayang Senandung also intends to reflect the reality of our current entertainment world where beauty is given more priority over talent," it added. Production for the drama was approved by Malaysian broadcaster RTM last year and filming began in March, albeit it being halted due to the Movement Control Order. Production has since resumed, Zeel Production said. 

The production house also said that it is fully aware of the current situation in the US and worldwide concerning racism and discrimination, which have affected the development of this production. "Dayang Senangdung is our national folklore that has been passed through generations. The objective of the story is illustrated to appreciate various types of beauty despite an individual's skin colour," it added.

Nonetheless, Zeel Production said on Instagram that it will continue filming the drama as it is "tied with the responsibility given by the TV station", and it hopes that consumers can watch the drama before further evaluating it.

Meanwhile, Zeel Production's director Fadzil Teh told Malay Mail that the drama "is not offensive to black people" and "will glorify" those with dark skin. He added that the there are no plans to reshoot as the story and character were given the greenlight when the team pitched the show earlier in 2020. 

Despite the apology, netizens remained unconvinced and many called the show "offensive", "insensitive" and "disrespectful". Some pointed out that the production house could have gotten a dark skinned girl to play the role. Others also asked the production house to reconsider the production of the film.

In 2017, Watsons Malaysia also landed in hot soup for a similar ad titled Legenda Cun Raya, which portrayed a blackface lady as unattractive. The controversial ad told the story of how legendary princesses and beauties auditioned to impress a rich merchant named Al-Kazam. In the video, 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, the campaign featured 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.

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