Hong Kong actress apologises over brownface portrayal of Filipino helper

Actress Franchesca Wong darkened her skin to portray a Filipino foreign domestic worker.

A Hong Kong actress who darkened her skin to play a Filipino domestic worker in a prime-time television drama has broken her silence after a week to apologise.

Franchesca Wong offered her apology on Wednesday, a week after the seventh episode of broadcaster TVB’s Barrack O’Karma 1968 series aired and sparked online debate and criticism from the Philippine consul general in the city.

“I genuinely have no intention to disrespect or racially discriminate [against] any ethnic group, please forgive me for getting it wrong,” Wong said on her Instagram account. “It has been a challenging experience to be at the centre of a lesson that art reflects deeply entrenched social attitudes.”

Canadian-born Wong played domestic helper “Louisa” in Jie Jie Part 1 , the first of two parts. Louisa displayed spooky behaviour, used voodoo and lied to her employers in the drama, which was broadcast last Tuesday.

Wong said she had taken some time over the past few days to process her emotions, reflect, speak to members of the community and listen to those who had reached out to her.

“Open sharing, if handled well, can surely only be good in raising awareness of issues that need to be discussed,” she added. “I am committed more than ever to using my acting for the good of the community.”

Wong’s fans were quick to offer their support following the apology, with some saying there was no problem with the episode and others praising the star for her courage in accepting responsibility for her acting.

“As an actor, you interpret and act a given role to fulfil the storyline. There is nothing inappropriate in the drama. You are a good actor, your acting was brilliant,” one wrote.

Another said: “It’s a good performance. You did not vilify Filipinos at all. Don’t take it to heart, I am looking forward to your next performance.”

The portrayal of Louisa by Wong in brownface sparked outrage over media depictions of minorities in the city. Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada called the show “downright ignorant, insensitive and totally disgusting”.

On Monday, Philippine-born actress Crisel Consunji, who played a Filipino helper in 2018 film Still Human , said she was deeply saddened that certain entertainment professionals had undermined the efforts of many for social cohesion.

“I am not personally offended by the casting of another ethnicity to play my nationality,” she wrote on Instagram. “If actors of other ethnic origins can play the part well, then by all means let them play a Filipino character.”

Actress Crisel Consunji.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

She called on actors and filmmakers to involve people from the margins in the production process and do appropriate research into social-cultural complexities if they truly sought authentic representation.

TVB said it had no further comment to add following Wong’s apology. The broadcaster had previously praised the star, saying her “professional performing techniques” resulted in a successful portrayal of her character. It also insisted it had never intended to disrespect or discriminate against any nationality.

The backlash led TVB to pull the second part, which was to air on the following day, and removed both episodes from its website. It said both episodes would be available again “after further content amendment”.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.