Use of blackface to portray Filipina domestic worker in Hong Kong TV drama draws outrage

Hong Kong broadcaster TVB is drawing outrage for darkening the skin of an actress in order to portray a Filipina domestic worker in the TV series Barrack O’Karma 1968. (Photo: Facebook/Franchesca Wong)
Hong Kong broadcaster TVB is drawing outrage for darkening the skin of an actress in order to portray a Filipina domestic worker in the TV series Barrack O’Karma 1968. (Photo: Facebook/Franchesca Wong)

Hong Kong broadcaster TVB is drawing outrage for darkening the skin of an actress in order to portray a Filipina domestic worker in the TV series Barrack O’Karma 1968.

In a new story arc of the supernatural drama that began on Monday, local actress Franchesca Wong plays the role of a foreign domestic worker named Louisa who behaves oddly.

Franchesca Wong is a graduate of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. (Photo: Facebook/Franchesca Wong)

Wong — a graduate of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts — has been lauded by some netizens and media outlets for her authentic acting, but others have called out the broadcaster for the racist caricature.

“Apparently nobody sees this instance of brown face problematic. Welcome to 2022 when the world has gone back to the dark ages 😡🙄,” said a Facebook user from the Philippines living in Hong Kong.

Culture writer Vivienne Chow said such representation of foreign domestic workers “just feels so wrong.”

Replying to Chow’s tweet, a Twitter user said: “Sigh… HK still seems so behind re #diversity practice today. Surely they could have cast an actual Filipina? And if not, then she could still have played the role without darkening her skin.”

Another Twitter user slammed the broadcaster, adding it is “worse to brag about it.”

One of Wong’s co-stars also posted a video on Instagram of her darkening her skin with make-up and them joking about it, clearly not seeing any problems with the portrayal.

The video was met with criticism from netizens, with some saying they would report the account.

“Disgusting and callous behavior,” said one Instagram user.

This is far from the first time that media outlets or advertisers in Hong Kong have been called out for using blackface to portray or poke fun at other cultures.

A virtual bank was criticized for using blackface in credit card ads in 2020, while a Hong Kong actor was forced to apologize after he darkened his skin in a racist parody video a few years ago.

But racism is still very prevalent, and often overlooked, in Hong Kong, where just around 10 percent of the population is non-Chinese.

Responding to queries from Coconuts, a TVB spokesman said “the storyline between a domestic helper and her employers was simply a dramatic story plot based on creativity.”

He stressed it was “never our intention to show disrespect or to discriminate any nationality in any of our program” and expressed concern to anyone who might be affected in this matter.

The spokesman also said Wong has “successfully portrayed” the role of the domestic worker through “her professional performing techniques and sophisticated handling of role-playing.”

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to include TVB’s response.

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