Video: Hong Kong TVB drama ignites ‘brownface’ line with Filipino role

by Jerome Taylor and Su Xinqi

A Hong Kong TV show has angered a Filipino character played by a local actress who darkened her skin, in Asia’s latest “brownface” incident.

Broadcaster TVB has cast Hong Kong-Canadian Franchesca Wong to play a Filipino domestic worker in its series “Barrack O’Karma 2”.

Wong appears on the show with visibly darker skin, and a clip posted by a colleague on Instagram showed her doing her leg makeup.

“I transform into another person,” Wong said in the video, affecting a Filipino accent.

“I’m sunbathing right now,” she added.

Franchesca Wong. Photo: lamkingching via Instagram screenshot.

Local media reviews this week of Wong’s portrayal were largely favorable and ignored discussion of race.

But the decision to darken her skin — and the casting choice itself — drew criticism, particularly among the city’s Filipino population.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that she had to darken her skin for the role,” Sabrina Man, a former Chinese-Filipino actress working in Hong Kong as a model, told AFP.

“Domestic workers have done so much for Hong Kong, and I think it’s disrespectful to them and Filipinos in general to do this,” she added.

“It wouldn’t have been difficult to look for someone of Filipino descent to play the role,” she said.

“Our Own Faces”

Jianne Soriano, a Filipino writer born in Hong Kong, agreed that there were plenty of Filipina actresses in the city who could have played the role.

“How could someone say okay to brownface and think a non-Filipino portraying a domestic helper is okay?” she wrote on Twitter.

“We can very well tell our story with our own faces.”

There are around 340,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, mostly women from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Paid at least 4,630 HK$ (590 US$) per month, they work six days a week and must live with their employer, in a city that offers some of the smallest apartments in the world.

Eni Lestari, a domestic worker and president of the International Migrant Alliance, described the TV show’s choices as “an insult” to domestic workers who already often face discrimination.

Migrant worker activist Eni Lestari. File photo: Dan Garrett.

“Culture is an expression of inequalities in the economic and political life of the community,” she added.

Neither TVB nor Wong responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.

“Brownface” or “blackface” are terms referring to the practice of darkening an actor’s skin to portray someone of a different race.

The practice has become taboo in North America and much of Europe where there has been a concerted push for more diverse distribution and representation in the entertainment industry.

But controversies over brownfaces continue to crop up in Asia, including in TV shows and advertisements.

Last year, a Malaysian pop star apologized for using a dark woman in a music video promoting a skin whitening product.

City TVB. Photo: TVB.

Singapore’s public broadcaster apologized in 2019 for an advert featuring a dark-skinned Chinese actor.

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