Since the whole Ah Boys to Men saga was about where to draw the line btw offence and humour when it comes to race, it would be very much relevant to hear the thoughts of a Singaporean Indian comedian himself – Rishi Budhrani on the matter.
Speaking as a Chinese individual who is aware that I make up the majority population in Singapore, I empathise on the aspect where due to limited acting role opportunities for racial minorities, he ends up having to perpetuate his own racial stereotype to fit the needs of what is required of his acting requisite; and in the end, it makes him feel ”reduced’ to a caricature of how he thinks non-Indians perceive his racial identity. Some would say he can choose not to take up the role if it goes against his comfort level, or to just see it as light-hearted humour like the classic show e.g. Mind your Language.
From the whole saga, the different points brought up by all sides are valid in their respective ways, regardless of their racial identity.
My additional input to the discussion would be – being a majority racial population where we are “privileged” in a sense to have majority representation in the media; there is a wider diversity in the roles we are granted to play, even when it comes to Chinese stereotypes. As such, we can laugh at ourselves because we know that there are different kinds of Chinese individuals, even within Chinese stereotypes itself. We do not feel we are racially typecasted.
But putting ourselves in the shoes of racial minority actors –
*Now I’m speaking in the shoes of a racial minority:
“As my racial group is already not represented much in the media, or I’m given limited tokenism roles; the more I would want to play roles that would not pigeonhole me to a certain characteristic, so that others would know that there is much diversity to what is representative of my race. As such, when I have to perpetuate my own racial stereotype, I would feel ‘reduced’ in a sense where the essence of portrayal of my racial identity is dictated and exploited by the majority group for the sole sake of humour.
In summary: I already get limited job opportunities. However, the acting roles provided to me only seeks to perpetuate my racial stereotype for humour sake.”
The underlying issue of this saga is basically this – So…as a racial minority actor (*other than Eurasians who I feel may not face this issue) in Singapore, choosing an uncomfortable role which perpetuates their racial stereotype might be their only option granted to them at many times for a big career opportunity. As a racial majority actor on the other hand, as I have more options in terms of diversity of roles that are offered for me to play, would I be placed in such a situation at many times? That’s for all of us to think about. And that’s the Chinese privilege (in Singapore’s context) I feel the minority groups are trying to bring across in the discussion of this issue.
For the issue where he made a conscious choice to play around with Indian accents or that of other nationalities in the past, I relate it back to the notion of “It’s not offensive and racist when I make fun of my own in-group, but it’s offensive and racist only when an out-group asks me to make fun of my own in-group”. We are all ironic hypocrites. We can mock ourselves, but once others not from our community do so to us, or ask us to do so to ourselves, it becomes offensive and racist.