Toggle’s use of blackface makeup on Chinese actor backfires

The infamous "blackface" strikes again and this time its with the help of Toggle.

The Mediacorp's OTT service provider has come under fire for use of black face makeup on a Chinese actor to portray an individual of African American descent. This occurred on the sixth episode of its original web series I Want to Be a Star.

The show talks about the challenges budding entertainment artists face in their journey to fame, and stars Mediacorp talents such as Chew Chor Meng, Shine Koh, Shane Pow, Ya Hui and Dennis Chew to name a few.

According to Mothership, Chew Chor Meng who plays a fictional director, is in the show looking to cast an African American actor - but to no avail. Chew’s character in the show, then calls an Indian colleague only to be pointed out by another character that Indians and African Americans are not the same.

So instead of finding an actual African American actor to play the role, the show used Chinese actor Pow, transforming his look with the help of black make up and costume. This, for obvious reasons, did not sit well with the Twitterverse. Here are the tweets that went out soon after:

Power98 DJ Dee Kosh also did not take well to the matter.

Following the backlash, Toggle removed the video and issued a statement on its Twitter page addressing the matter.

The statement read: “The scene has been perceived as being racially insensitive by some viewers, although that was never our intention in the production.” It said that it appreciates the feedback and truly apologises to viewers who have been affected by the portrayal, adding that the relevant scenes have now been removed from the programme. It also pulled the blackface episode off the website.


However, its official statement was also deemed unacceptable by netizens.


Anil Nihalani, head of Toggle, has since apologised for the apology. In a statement to Marketing, he said:

“Our apology yesterday came out wrong. We’re sorry for the blackface portrayal and for the poor apology. We take race-related issues very seriously and that portrayal should not have happened. We’ve removed the offensive scenes from the programme and will ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.”

Toggle in recent times, hasn't had the smoothest of relationships with its viewers. In June, Toggle took responsibility for the “fashion police” promotional video for its Double Trouble series, hosted by local celebrities Mark Lee and Kumar. The promotional video featuring social media influencer Saffron Sharpe saw her criticising fashion faux pas of passer bys and the spot was heavily panned by netizens.

And of course, the black face issue is not new to the region. In fact, just next door, Malaysian broadcaster Astro’s MeleTOP,  came under fire in August for using an actor covered in dark makeup to portray Usher in a parody video of his collaboration with the nation’s renowned Malaysian singer Yuna.

Over in Hong Kong, a domestic helper insurance ad from Hong Leong Bank  also copped flak for using a local actor with black face make up to play a Filipina maid.

Clearly, using the black face helps no one. So, maybe as an industry, we should wipe off the use of black face completely.

(Photo courtesy: @seitanclaws)