Mediacorp actor Dennis Chew says he is ‘deeply sorry’ over ‘brownface’ ad

A screenshot taken from the epaysg.com website showing actor Dennis Chew depicted as people from other races.
A screenshot taken from the epaysg.com website showing actor Dennis Chew depicted as people from other races.

The Mediacorp actor who fronted the “brownface” e-payment advertising campaign that sparked an online firestorm finally issued an apology of his own on Instagram last night.

Dennis Chew, who had his face visibly darkened to portray an Indian man, said that his “role in a recent ad has caused much disappointment.”

The 45-year-old added: “I cannot undo things, but I would like to say to everyone, I am deeply sorry.”

Chew’s apology comes about two weeks after the ad sparked an online backlash, with many also taking issue with him cross-dressing as a Malay woman for the campaign.

In the course of that period, the three companies involved – Mediacorp, Havas Worldwide and NETS – have each issued respective apologies. With Mediacorp and Havas also issuing apologies for a second time, according to reports.

None of the three companies addressed the fundamental issue of brownface, however, and whether they believe its use to be wrong.

So why did Chew wait so long before jumping on the apology train? Well, he didn’t want to make things even worse, apparently.

In his Instagram statement, Chew said: “For many days I held back what I have to say, afraid of making things worse. I feel terrible about how things turned out.”

He then went on to finish his statement with a line fit for a National Day speech (fittingly enough, as it’s tomorrow).

“We live in a harmonious multiracial society and we must never take it for granted. I will set higher expectations of myself. I will do better by my family, friends, colleagues and most importantly, all of you.”

Overall, Chew’s statement garnered praise and cheers from fans and, of course, Mediacorp colleagues like Yasminne Cheng and Elvin Ng, who gave him heart emojis in the comments.

Screenshot of comments on Dennis Chew's Instagram account.
Screenshot of comments on Dennis Chew’s Instagram account.

Last Saturday, meanwhile, siblings Preeti and Subhas Nair, the duo behind a scathing rap video that angrily addressed the brownface campaign, were back with a lengthy apology of their own.

A first attempt at saying sorry, posted Friday, almost seemed to parody the Mediacorp’s apology language, saying “we’re sorry for any hurt that was unintentionally caused.”

In their follow-up, the siblings said they were sorry for “the tone, aggression, vulgarities, and gestures used in their rap video.”

If given the chance to do it over again, they would have “worded our thoughts better,” they said.

Since the video’s release, the duo has become the subject of a police investigation, been publicly condemned by a lawmaker, and saw a segment of a music documentary created to celebrate National Day excised by Channel NewsAsia. Not that they were under pressure or anything.

Guess this sums up the episode on race in Singapore — for now. But let’s hope this flareup serves to broaden the national conversation about race and ultimately takes all of us to a more enlightened place.

Related stories:

Police investigating rap video made in response to ‘brownface’ ad for ‘offensive content’

Mediacorp, ad agency sorry for ‘brownface’ ad, yank adverts

Thousands sign petitions to keep rapper Subhas in National Day documentary and take action on ‘brownface’ ad

Singapore Kindness Movement takes down two race-related articles and issues apology amid backlash

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