TVB suspense thriller series Barrack O’Karma 1968 has stirred up controversy after Canadian-Hong Kong actress Franchesca Wong was made to darken her skin to portray a Filipina. The actress plays a domestic helper on the TVB suspense thriller series Barrack O’Karma 1968, appearing on an episode which aired on April 12 about a Chinese couple who hires a domestic helper named Louisa that they later suspect of using voodoo. The actress was made to appear in makeup that made her skin look visibly darker.

In a now-deleted clip that was posted on Instagram by Wong’s co-actor Lam King-ching, the actress is seen applying dark makeup to her legs and explaining, in a Filipino accent, that it’s to “transform into another person, to Louisa.”

“Brownface” or “blackface” refers to the practice in which an actor’s skin is darkened to portray someone of a different race. It dates back to the mid-19th century when white performers started painting their faces black to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows across the US. This practice is now frowned upon especially in North America and Europe, where entertainment industries are growing more inclusive in their casting choices.

While Wong’s performance has been commended by local media, debate exploded online about how appropriate it is for a non-Filipino actress to use brownface to portray a character of another race. One tweet said that the user had become so jaded by racism towards ethnic minorities in Hong Kong that they weren’t surprised, “just deeply disappointed – but what’s new.”

In fact, this isn’t the first time that a TVB actress has used brownface to portray a Filipina. Artnet correspondent Vivienne Chow tweeted a picture of actress Elvina Kong portraying a migrant domestic worker on the drama I am Maria in 1988.

TVB has since issued a statement, which reads: “TVB has always strived to provide top-notch entertainment experience for our viewers and we wish to emphasise that it was never our intention to show disrespect or to discriminate any nationality in any of our programme. We would like to express our concern to anyone who might be affected in this matter.”

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The incident has even led to an online petition demanding that the Instagram clip showing the behind-the-scenes footage be deleted from social media, and that actors Wong and Lam formally apologise for their “racist and unacceptable remarks.”

According to Yahoo, the episode has been removed from TVB, “to facilitate amendments to the episode’s contents. It will be uploaded again once this is completed.”

Update (20 April 2022): A week after the episode aired, actress Franchesca Wong issued an apology on her Instagram page, stating: “I genuinely have no intention to disrespect or racially discriminate any ethnic group […] It has been a challenging experience to be at the centre of a lesson that art reflects deeply entrenched social attitudes.”

Header image credits: F. Wong on Facebook

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From the Middle East to the Far East and a couple of places in between, Anjali has lived in no fewer than seven cities in Asia, and has travelled extensively in the region. She worked as a lifestyle journalist in India before coming to Hong Kong, where her favourite thing to do is island-hopping with her daughter. You can check out her musings on motherhood, courtesy her Instagram profile.

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