In case you missed two videos going viral for all the wrong reasons this week, here’s what you should catch up on. First, an E-pay ad starring Dennis Chew in two “brownface” getups came under fire for being racist. Then, a very offended YouTuber Preetipls uploaded a video mocking that ad, replete with expletives and rude hand gestures.
Preetipls, who is a female YouTuber of Indian descent, recently posted a video of her and her brother singing their own lyrics to the tune of an Iggy Azalea song. The video, which was mostly rap, showed the YouTuber and her brother, Subhas Nair, reacting to the now-notorious E-pay advertisement that was launched featuring Dennis Chew. All the campaign materials featured Dennis dressed up as a Chinese girl, a Malay lady in tudung, an Indian office worker and a handyman with brown hair (probably representing the “others” ethnic group). The montage was supposed to be a metaphor for how E-pay, like the actor Dennis Chew himself, was multifaceted.
Known for his drag persona as neighbourhood busybody Auntie Lucy, Chew is no stranger to putting on a wig, bright lipstick and sporting plucked eyebrows. However, he has never gone “brownface” to portray an Indian or Malay person in his roles.
“Brownface”, which is an adaptation of the original “blackface” from 19th century America, refers to the darkening of a Chinese actor’s complexion with face paint in order to depict an Indian or Malay person. Historically, “blackface” is a form of theatrical makeup used by Caucasian actors to represent a caricature of a black person. More often than not, these roles were unflattering and derogatory.
Netizens were the first to point out that the ad was a “brownface” incident. Both Twitter and Facebook users expressed disbelief that ad agencies were still ignorant as to why “brownface” is highly offensive, especially in the year 2019.
Brownface in a Singaporean ad in 2019. I thought we already went over this… pic.twitter.com/ypTEbVYH8x
— ruby (@RubyThiagarajan) July 26, 2019
The media company who created the campaign, Havas, and The Celebrity Agency, which is Mediacorp’s celebrity arm, has taken down the ad. While they did issue an apology, some netizens think that they were defensive of their campaign and lacked sincerity.Then, Preetipls and her brother made their own video mocking the campaign.
Since the video contains explicit language and is the subject of police investigation, we won’t be linking it here.
The video features the YouTuber and her brother, along with two persons who appear to be of Chinese descent flashing their middle finger while alluding to the portrayal of the Indian and Malay persons in the E-pay ad. They rapped about how Chinese people are, in general, allowed to get away with racist behaviour, while people of other ethnicities have to deal with far harsher consequences.
These are some of the tamer moments in the video:
They repeated the term ‘brownface’ and explained how it has been used to mock people of Indian descent.
The video specifically fingered “Chinese people”.
The brother and sister took particular offense with the ad’s portrayal of the Indian man that they named K. Muthusamy. As you can see here, Subhas is dressed in the same office attire as “K. Muthusamy”, complete with pastel-pink long-sleeved shirt and a lanyard. Observe closely, and you’ll see that they shot the video with the banner and posters of the E-pay campaign in the background.
Government steps in
July 30 saw Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam responding to both the ad and the song by Preetipls. While he said that the advertisement was indeed pushed out in “poor taste,” the video from the YouTuber was much worse, since the goal of song was to shame Chinese people specifically.
Could it be argued that the opposite could be true, and that Preetipls and Subhas Nair are actually aware of social norms and racist behaviour while everyone who worked and approved of that E-pay ad thoroughly ignorant or even too privileged to notice?
What do you think about the ad and the video? Let us know in the comments!