Samsung Singapore on Wednesday (19 Jan) removed a video advertisement that featured a Muslim mother expressing support for her son, a drag queen.
The one-minute video, which was part of the company's campaign to promote its latest earbuds and smartwatch, was deleted across Samsung Singapore's social media platforms.
Samsung removed the content in response to online backlash from netizens who criticised the ad for being offensive and insensitive to Islam.
Some netizens had voiced opposition to the video's portrayal of a Muslim's acceptance of a drag performer.
One user Syed Dan wrote on Facebook, "We are against the ideology of mainstreaming homosexuality and transgenderism into a conservative society."
Another user, Muhammed Zuhaili, said the video had "surfaced much confusion and questions amongst the (Muslim) community" and called for the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) to take action.
A blogger Fikrah Siyasah said that Samsung was "promoting LGBT to Muslims".
Samsung posted this statement on its Facebook page:
"We are aware of the feedback that one of our recent campaign films for our wearable products may be perceived as insensitive and offensive to some members of our local community. We acknowledge that we have fallen short in this instance, and have since removed the content from all public platforms.
Samsung believes that innovation and growth are driven by diversity and inclusivity. We will certainly be more mindful and thorough in considering all perspectives and viewpoints for our future marketing campaigns."
Yahoo Life SEA reached out to MUIS, but it declined to comment.
Message of deleted video
Last November, Samsung had created and launched the campaign, 'Samsung Listen to your Heart,' for its wearable products together with ad agency Cheil Singapore.
There were four real-life stories featured in the campaign, which revolved around people expressing their heartfelt thoughts to their loved ones.
In the removed video, a 60-year-old woman wearing a tudung hijab listens to a recorded message from her son through Samsung's earbuds.
"Dear mother, not many will have such an understanding and open-minded mum like you, and my heart can't thank you enough," says the son. "I remember the day you came down to support me in a club. And even though some people may have this mindset of a hijab lady in a club, you were just unbothered. That was the most precious and proudest moment I have felt. Boy sayangkan mak ("boy loves you" in Malay), always."
The video ends with the mother and son hugging each other affectionately.
Drag is a performance art often associated with gay men and queer culture in which artists perform for entertainment wearing exaggerated make-up and outfits that challenge gender norms. Drag art can be performed by anyone, however, and drag queens are not necessarily gay or transgender.
Anand Vathiyar, managing director of Cheil Singapore, told Marketing-Interactive that the point of the campaign was for people to express what is often left unsaid to their loved ones, and that it was unfortunate that a mother's love and support for her son, regardless of what he does for a living, was singled out. "What is heartening is that for everyone who is getting politically correct about this episode, there are many others, especially younger Singaporeans, who seem to get that we can do better to listen to each other with due care, empathy, respect, and consideration," Vathiyar said.
Samsung Singapore using LGBT content and backing down. What are we? Accessories? If you're not ready to stand with us, then don't. Don't milk the pink dollars and then run.Drag queen Vanda Miss Joaquim
Other netizens were supportive of Samsung's video.
One user on Instagram wrote, "Saddens me that we aren’t a progressive society yet, full of judgement when we have a community of all different types of people. I salute Samsung for being daring but sad that criticisms from a few brought this down."
"It is 2022 already... What we fail to see here is the mother's unconditional love for her child .. Samsung, why you succumb to pressure so easily," said another netizen.
Another Instagram user wrote, "I saw the ad... It was a very touching ad.. It should not have been removed... People need to stop judging and learn how to respect instead."
Queer groups disappointed by Samsung
Members of the LGBTQ community were disappointed that Samsung Singapore removed a video that provided positive portrayal of queer people and their families.
LGBTQ people we spoke to appreciated that Samsung provided a platform to showcase a loving family with a queer member, but thought that the video's subsequent censorship was a missed chance for dialogue.
Zuby Eusofe, founder of The Healing Circle, a queer Muslim support group, said, "I think Samsung should not have taken down the ad. They should be brave. Since they emphasised strongly that they respect diversity, then they should not take down the ad. Samsung should put up this ad again. If they were to pull this ad because of criticism from the Muslim community, then you're not allowing queer Muslims to have that dialogue with mainstream Muslims. With the ad, it motivates them to have that dialogue with us."
Benjamin Xue, co-founder of Young OUT Here, a support group for queer youth, said, "We’re disappointed that an ad celebrating familial bonds and love got taken down by Samsung Singapore. It could have been a moment to encourage the rest of Singapore to listen, without judgement, to their LGBTQ+ friends and family members. Such dialogues are necessary for understanding to take place, especially amongst LGBTQ+ youths and their family members."
Vanda Miss Joaquim, a top local drag queen, said on Instagram, "Samsung Singapore using LGBT content and backing down. What are we? Accessories? If you're not ready to stand with us, then don't. Don't milk the pink dollars and then run. Attention to all the companies and brands that I've rejected cause I see you and your truth."
Yahoo Life SEA reached out to Samsung Singapore for comment, and a representative referred us to the statement that Samsung had posted on its Facebook page.
Companies in Singapore had previously featured LGBT representation in their ads as well, such as Poh Heng Jewellery and W Hotel, and reactions had similarly been divided. However, those companies did not withdraw their ads.