An advertisement for a credit card company in Hong Kong has drawn criticism on social media for referencing a popular Internet meme yet featuring a man wearing blackface.
The ad, produced by the financial loans company WeWa, was spotted in several railway stations across the city. It depicted the “confused guy meme,” which is originally a photo of black basketball player Nick Young.
The person portraying Young in the photo has clearly had his skin darkened to appear black. His image is accompanied by question marks above the man’s shoulders, alongside yellow text that reads “What?!” and “promotions all year round” with a list of WeWa’s partner retailers.
The ad campaign also features other popular Internet memes, including the same Asian man dressed as Young depicting Leonardo DiCaprio raising a cocktail glass as Jay Gatsby in the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, as well as rapper Drake performing dance moves to his song Hotline Bling.
A lot has changed in Hong Kong, but one thing has stayed the same: problematic blackface ads in the subway pic.twitter.com/LjRAMYfrmp
— Arman Dzidzovic (@iamarman88) October 11, 2020
The ads attracted criticism online. Some netizens appeared to defend Hong Kong, however, noting that the man in the photos is not a Hongkonger but a Thai Internet celebrity named Anucha “Cha” Saengchart.
As explained by the Asian news site Coconuts, “while brands and companies in more multicultural societies like the U.S. and U.K. have been pressured into reckoning with their racism, that level of racial sensitivity has not quite reached Hong Kong. There is little awareness around the discrimination that dark-skinned minorities face in the city, from being rejected by landlords to earning less at work than their Chinese colleagues.”
The man in the ads is actually a popular Thai cosplayer the company collaborated with.
In a behind-the-scenes video of the photoshoot, he doesn’t seem to be wearing any darkened makeup, suggesting the blackface was a post-production job by the companyhttps://t.co/XdJqaM1mTr
— Hillary L (@hillary_leung) October 12, 2020
Racism towards foreigners, especially Africans, remains an even greater issue in communist China. Last month, the state-run Xinhua News Agency published a cartoon depicting white American police officers chasing a black man while yelling “Hunt that Blackie!” The cartoon was reportedly an attempt to admonish the U.S. over structural racism.
In February 2018, a Chinese Lunar New Year television show promoting the country’s One Belt One Road infrastructure initiative also featured a woman wearing face paint with an enlarged buttocks. The routine involved the caricatured woman entering the stage with a plate of fruit on her head, accompanied by a man wearing a monkey costume.