An advertisement on e-payment in Singapore has been taken down after it was accused of racism and cultural appropriation for using a Chinese actor to dress up as characters of other races, including darkening his skin.
The ad was put out by E-Pay, a Singapore government agency that encourages the public to use electronic payment solutions in coffee shops, hawker centres, and industrial canteens across the country.
It featured Dennis Chew, a Mediacorp actor, dressed in various forms of garb to represent the main races of Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian. He also dressed up as a woman.
The ad was splashed across the website’s homepage, with the imaged of a darkened Chew as an Indian man in the FAQ section, wearing a lanyard with the name “K Muthusamy” printed on the card.
It has also been reported that there is large banner with the same images hanging at Maxwell Food Centre.
The ad stirred up a debate about racism online with many unhappy that Chew’s skin was darkened and that he was wearing a tudung, which is a traditional headscarf worn by Malay women.
Brownface in a Singaporean ad in 2019. I thought we already went over this... pic.twitter.com/ypTEbVYH8x
— ruby (@RubyThiagarajan) July 26, 2019
According to The Straits Times (paywalled), Chew’s employers Mediacorp has apologised for the ad and it has since been taken down.
This is not the first time Mediacorp has darkened the skin of a Chinese actor. In 2016, it aired a TV show that depicted a Chinese actor putting on blackface in order to play an Afro-American character.
Mediacorp was fined S$5,500 by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) for that incident.