An advertisement created for epaysg.com, an e-payment website, was recently released featuring Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew impersonating different races.
In the advertisement, one can see Chew dressed up as different races in Singapore such as a Malay woman in a headscarf as well as an Indian man with darkened skin. He also portrayed the role of a Chinese woman in a pink jacket and a Chinese man with a moustache in the advertisement.
As expected, the ad did not go down too well with the public, with many criticising the need to use one person to play different roles instead of hiring people of the actual races to play the characters.
In response to the ad, Singaporean influencer and comedian Preeti Nair, famously known as Preetipls, along with her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, released a rap video calling out epaysg.com for being racist on Facebook and YouTube on Monday (29 June).
The video titled “K. Muthusamy” contains offensive content. In the video, the siblings can be seen repeatedly uttering “Chinese people always out here f***king it up”, while condemning Chinese Singaporeans who they claim are racist and exploit minorities for money.
On the other hand, Subhas was also dressed similarly to the brown-toned look by Chew in the original advertisement.
Some of the questions raised in the video include “How can a man wear brown and wear a tudung? Two wrongs don’t make a right” highlighting how it is not right for Chew to act as a Malay woman and an Indian man, as well as C.M.I.O which originally stands for Chinese, Malay, Indian and others, has now changed to “Cancel minority is ok!”.
The video also said that this is not the first time such an incident has happened as a previous Deepavali advertisement had a Chinese dressed up as a Sikh man.
But at the end of the video, as a disclaimer, Preeti said that “not all Chinese people are racist, only the racist ones ah”, indicating that they’re not slamming every Chinese Singaporean in the country.
Just two hours of posting the video, it had gotten 4,000 views and almost 150 shares on Facebook. However, by Tuesday afternoon, the video was taken down from Facebook and other social media channels. Both the original video as well as the re-uploaded ones have been taken down because of a complaint from the Government.
Mediacorp says sorry
After receiving flak from the public, Mediacorp in a statement given to The Sunday Times on 28 July, apologised for the advertisement.
The creative agency appointed for the advertisement, Havas Worldwide, and The Celebrity Agency (TCA), Mediacorp’s celebrity management arm said, “We’re sorry for any hurt that was unintentionally caused. Behind the ad is an initiative to provide greater convenience to consumers, merchants and small food business.”
It also explained the use of Chew for multiple characters.
“The message behind this advertising campaign is that e-payment if for everyone. For that reason, Dennis Chew, well-known for his ability to portray multiple characters in a single production in a light-hearted way, was selected as the face of the campaign. He appears as characters from different walks of life in Singapore, bring home the point that everyone can e-pay.”
The epaysg.com website later removed the controversial advertisement.
Police report made
Although the Government went quite lenient with Mediacorp for their distasteful advertisement, they did not let Preetipls off the hook that easily. On Tuesday (30 July), police said in a statement that they are aware of the siblings’ rap video and a report has been lodged against it.
“The police will not tolerate any offensive content that causes ill will between races,” the police said while highlighting that they are investigating the matter.
Law Minister’s response
Upon viewing Preetipls and her brother’s video, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shamugam also said that it “crosses the line” and is not acceptable.
Although Mr Shanmugam agrees that the epaysg.com advertisement was done “in poor taste”, but he said Preeti’s video did cross the line, nothing that he takes a “zero tolerance” approach to such matters. This is because he noted that if “speech, songs like this are allowed, slowly but surely, it will get worse.”
“This rap video insults Chinese Singaporeans, uses four-letter words on Chinese Singaporeans, vulgar gestures, pointing of middle finger, to make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans,” he said.
He added, “When you use four-letter words, vulgar language, attack another race, put it out in public, we have to draw the line and say not acceptable.”
He went on further to say that if someone doesn’t like content produced by another person, then they need to ask for an apology or lodge a police report.
“If (it was) something you didn’t like, then you ask for an apology. If you think it is criminal, you make a police report. You don’t cross the line yourself,” the Minister explained.
After reading the Government’s reaction towards Preetipls’s rap video along with her brother, netizens slammed the Government for their unfair treatment on ST’s Facebook page. They pointed out how Mediacorp got away for their advertisement with just an apology, but the sibling duo got a stronger reaction from the politicians.
Kirsten Han, the editor in chief of New Naratif, noted that “it’s just not fair when the majority gets to dictate what is just a bit of fun, and what is offensive”.
Others also voiced their support for the rap video and said that it is not offensive as it is funny, and the majority race in the country is “making up all the rules that perpetuate systemic racism”.
A bunch of netizens also said that Singaporeans are becoming very sensitive and can’t enjoy a simple joke. They mentioned that “people need to chill and have a sense of humour over little things in life.
However, other said that it’s not right to fight racism with racism. They said that replying to an offensive video with another offensive video is not the right way to do it. Some said that it’s best to stop the issue here and not allow a tit-for-tat reaction.