Chinese actor’s ‘brownface’ portrayal of a Filipino character on Hong Kong TV show draws backlash

'brown face' hong kong show
Image: @hkfp; @franchesca_wong
  • Hong Kong horror TV show “Barrack O’Karma” sparked outrage when Chinese actor Franchesca Wong darkened her skin with make-up to portray a Filipino domestic helper character.
  • A clip posted to Instagram by one of Wong’s colleagues shows the actor applying dark make-up on her legs while mocking a Filipino accent.
  • Some local Chinese news outlets have praised the actor for her performance.
  • TVB also applauded Wong for her “successful” portrayal due to her “professional performing techniques and sophisticated handling of role-playing.”
  • The TV show has sparked criticism of Hong Kong’s portrayal of minorities in the media. Some Filipino actors residing in Hong Kong also spoke out about the stereotypical roles of Filipinos as domestic workers in the media industry.

A Hong Kong TV show sparked outrage for casting a Chinese actor who darkened her skin with make-up to portray a Filipino character.

Chinese Canadian actor Franchesca Wong donned “brownface” to play a Filipino domestic helper, “Louisa,” in the TVB horror series “Barrack O’Karma.”

A clip posted to Instagram by one of her colleagues shows Wong applying dark make-up on her legs. The video has since been deleted following backlash.

“I am transforming into another person,” Wong said in the video while mocking a Filipino accent. “I am sun-tanning right now, sir.”

The “Barrack O’Karma” episode, which aired on Tuesday, follows the story of a Chinese couple who hire a Filipino helper later suspected of using voodoo. The show portrays “Louisa” as a submissive character with dark skin, strange behavior and a fake accent.

Some local Chinese news outlets have praised the actor for her performance. News outlet HK01’s article headline translates to “Actress Franchesca Wong painted herself black to star as a foreign domestic worker, but she is actually a beautiful woman.”

TVB also applauded Wong for her “successful” portrayal due to her “professional performing techniques and sophisticated handling of role-playing.”

The TV show has sparked more general criticism of Hong Kong’s portrayal of minorities in the media.

“As a free-to-air channel, it’s really insensitive for them to produce an episode darkening a Chinese person, and making eerie portrayals of domestic workers,” Phyllis Cheung Fung-mei, executive director of Hong Kong minority advocacy group Unison, told the South China Morning Post. “We should be appreciating cultures, not appropriating them.”

“The Hong Kong media is raving the [sic] performance of a local actress painting her face dark to play the role of a Filipina in a TVB series,” Artnet Correspondent Vivienne Chow tweeted. “I didn’t watch the show (not planning to) but this just feels so wrong. Why does this still exist in this day and age?”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that she had to darken her skin for the role,” Chinese Filipino model Sabrina Man told Agence France-Presse. “Domestic workers have done so much for Hong Kong, and I think it’s disrespectful to them and to Filipinos in general to do this. It wouldn’t have been difficult to look for someone with Filipino heritage to play the role.”

Some Filipino actors residing in Hong Kong also spoke out about the stereotypical roles of Filipinos as domestic workers in the media industry.

“I hope the local industry can do something to change their views, and really see domestic workers as human beings and not as caricatures. They are not a stereotype,” Izzy Jose, a Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts educator, told the Morning Post. “I’m just tired of going to auditions for films and the roles are always the clumsy helper.”

“I’ve been cast as a domestic worker 10 times already and only two of the roles were somewhat decent,” Miles Sible, a Hong Kong-based Filipino actress, added. “As actors, we really put our all into our performances. We can deliver more nuanced stories of migrant workers, and Filipinos who work and grew up in this city.”

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