A splashy credit card advertisement in Hong Kong has elicited praise for what many are applauding as a humorous and creative play on popular internet memes. But few people are calling it out for what it is: blackface.
The WeWa ad, spotted in MTR stations including Admiralty, Central and HKU, and on buses over the weekend, shows a man cosplaying the “confused guy meme.” (The meme is actually a photo of African-American NBA player, Nick Young.)
In the ad, the man’s face, which has a comically thin moustache and bushy eyebrows, is visibly darkened. Underneath the question marks attached to the man’s shoulders, the yellow text reads “What?!” and “promotions all year round” with a list of WeWa’s partner retailers.
The credit card ad campaign also includes cosplays of other memes, such as actor Leonardo DiCaprio raising a cocktail glass in 2013’s The Great Gatsby and rapper Drake’s dance moves from the music video of Hotline Bling. (Drake is biracial. In the campaign, the cosplay of Drake does not make him out to be visibly darker.)
Coconuts has reached out to PrimeCredit, the financial loans company promoting the WeWa credit cards, for comment.
While some netizens jumped in with criticism, others brought up the fact that the man in the ads is not a Hongkonger. The campaign is in collaboration with the popular social media page “Lowcostcosplay,” and features Anucha “Cha” Saengchart, the Thai internet celebrity behind the humorous cosplays.
His Facebook page shares photos of the cosplay enthusiast using household items to emulate celebrities, anime characters, and in some instances, inanimate objects like egg sushi and a sausage bun. Saengchart’s portly figure has also come in handy in some of his most viral posts.
The Thai star, who would be considered tan compared to the average local Hongkonger, doesn’t look to be wearing darkened make-up during the photoshoot—snippets of which were shown in a behind-the-scenes video posted to WeWa’s Facebook page. Saengchart has not responded to Coconuts‘ request for clarification at the time of writing.
The darker complexion appears to have been added post-production, perhaps more a reflection on the marketing team’s vision for the campaign than Saengchart’s cosplay.
While brands and companies in more multicultural societies like the US and UK have been pressured into reckoning with their racism, that level of racial sensitivity has not quite reached Hong Kong. There is little awareness around the discrimination that dark-skinned minorities face in the city, from being rejected by landlords to earning less at work than their Chinese colleagues.
On Twitter, and on one Facebook group popular among expats, some have commented on the advertisement’s apparent use of blackface. But by and large, a campaign that might have drawn backlash elsewhere hasn’t been met with negative publicity.
One netizen on WeWa’s Facebook page perhaps sums up popular sentiment: “I won’t sign up [for the credit card,] but this advertisement is really cool,” he wrote.