YouTubers Tan Jianhao and Ridhwan Azman retire 'Peter Papadum' character after realising insensitivity

PHOTO: YouTube screengrab

Following a series of social media posts showcasing how he's now woke to injustices in society, Singapore’s biggest YouTuber is retiring one insensitive aspect of his videos: an exaggerated archetype of an ethnic minority.

In the many skits that Tan Jianhao produced under his umbrella of YouTube channels, there has been a long-running character by the name of Peter Papadum, a caricatural depiction of an Indian uncle who is supposedly a retired Regimental Sergeant Major of the Singapore Armed Forces and a roti prata seller

Though the character is portrayed by fellow YouTuber Ridhwan Azman, Peter Papadum speaks in a thick Indian accent and has exaggerated body mannerisms. Background Indian music is used as a comedic effect when Peter Papadum appears. 

After gaining popularity (for some reason) among Tan’s fans, the character was even spun-off into Ridhwan’s own YouTube channel for even more stereotypical hijinks. On top of being a mainstay in skits, Peter Papadum has sung prata-related parodies of tunes like Drake’s God’s Plan and Lil Pump’s Gucci Gang. Both videos have garnered over a million views each. 

It took years but both Tan and Ridhwan have finally decided to retire the character from future videos. This was apparently done in solidarity with the explosive fight against racism and injustice currently erupting in the United States over the recent death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died while his neck was pinned to the floor by a white police officer. 

Tan, in particular, has been vocal in his support for the injustice against Floyd on Twitter. In the process, however, the YouTuber has come to terms with some of the problematic aspects of his past videos, including having his hair braided (associated with cultural appropriation) and Peter Papadum. 

https://twitter.com/thejianhaotan/status/1266718323535839237

Yesterday (May 31), Tan announced on Instagram that he has seen the errors of his ways and made an apology, assuring that he will now be “more sensitive to how (he portrays) certain races”. 

"I’ve never meant to put a certain race under a bad light. After some reflection, I realized it was insensitive and we could have done it better,” he wrote, adding that he has a responsibility to educate his young impressionable audiences. 

View this post on Instagram

When I first started out on YouTube with my best friend, we created some characters because we were only a 2 people team. Peter Papadum was one of these characters and the storyline is that PP and JianHao have a long history of banter and putting each other in tough spots. This was a time where we couldn’t afford to have a team or pay other actors yet. Among other characters, Ridhwan also plays other characters like an awkward Chinese boy Ren Yi Xiang but I understand the difference. PP adopts caricature-like qualities that exploit racial stereotypes, while Ren Yi Xiang merely appears as a name. Furthermore, Chinese people in SG do not deal with the same oppression as other minority races. I’ve never meant to put a certain race under a bad light. After some reflection, I realized it was insensitive and we could have done it better. I will no longer have that character anymore. I try my best to include as many races in my videos, among the characters, we have a Malay principal, a Chinese cleaner, an Indian teacher. I do not give actors roles based on their color of their skin. I give it to them based on their ability to portray a role. However, now, as I grow and learn more, I will be more sensitive to how I portray certain races, and I apologize for not understanding this implications of this and I will not make the same mistake again. I realise now that to enact change to dismantle racism it has to begin at home, and with those who have a voice. As an influencer and content creator with a following, I have a responsibility to educate my young and impressionable audiences. To the Singaporean minorities I’ve hurt with any of my jokes, I apologize.

A post shared by JIANHAO TAN (@thejianhaotan) on May 31, 2020 at 6:31am PDT

Similarly, Ridhwan has apologised for his portrayal of the character, bidding farewell to Peter Papadum. 

“This fictional character was never made to offend anyone but only to create smiles,” he posted on Instagram.

Even long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons has phased out Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a recurring character that has been deemed problematic for being an offensive caricature of South Asians. Hank Azaria, the white actor who voiced the Indian shopkeeper for three decades, stepped down from the role after understanding why it was hurtful. 

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ilyas@asiaone.com