NETS' brownface ad: Here’s what local celebrities and personalities are saying in response

Sheila Chiang
Lifestyle contributor
The original ad (left) and an image (right) used for the FAQ section of the E-Pay website have both been taken down. (PHOTO: Screenshots)

SINGAPORE — What was supposed to be a campaign to advertise the convenience of e-payments, divided Singaporeans and caused outrage instead, with many calling out the racial insensitivity of the ad, while others could not see the inherent racism. In a government-backed ad from cashless payment provider NETS, local Chinese MediaCorp actor, Dennis Chew, portrayed four characters: a Malay Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, a Chinese man, a Chinese woman and an Indian man, for which his skin was painted to look darker.

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In response, a rap video slamming the campaign for its use of racial stereotypes and "brownface" was released by YouTuber Preeti Nair, better known by the moniker Preetipls, and her brother, local rapper Subhas Nair. In the video, the siblings used vulgarities and offensive gestures against Chinese Singaporeans.

After the advertisement sparked a backlash, Chew’s representatives from Mediacorp apologised “for any hurt that was unintentionally caused”.

“The message behind this advertising campaign is that e-payment is for everyone,” the broadcaster said on Monday.

In their video, however, the siblings questioned whether the advertisement was promoting “the app or the stereotypes”.

"This one's for all the Chinese people who don't know their place / We in 2019 man / This s***'s a disgrace," she said in the nearly three-minute song.

The video has already been removed from social media platforms.

Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore reached out to Kumar, a stand-up comedian for his thoughts on the matter.

He was perturbed and said, “Is it so hard to find four different people for the ad? You know what I mean, right? If she (Preetipls) is going to get punished, then government and agency should be in trouble too?”

When asked if he has watched the video, he said he did before the video was taken down. Kumar said about Preetipls’s video, “It’s more like bottled anger. It wasn’t even funny. She was just angry in the video.”

“It is also not right to target all Chinese people in the video.”

Here are what some other celebrities think of the ad.

Benjamin Kheng, local musician and frontman of The Sam Willows, said he was disappointed that CNA punished Subhas for his role in the rap video by removing his part in a National Day documentary. Kheng said, “It’s scary how many people found the original ad to be completely non-offensive”, and hopes that more people will open their minds to perceive “systemic racism” in Singapore.

Benjamin Kheng's response. (PHOTO: Screenshot from Instagram Stories)


Rishi Budhrani, comedian, host and actor, posted on Instagram:

One people,
One nation,
One Singapore.
One Chinese actor,
Let’s brown his face,
To play races all four. ———- It’s unfortunate for the actor.
But it’s also 2019.
So, let’s wake up our idea a bit.
#Singapore #MyHome #YourHome#ourHome #2019 #BrownFace


Actor and host Hossan Leong said in response to Rishi Budhrani’s post: “Ok this is really really bad. On all accounts. Creative, client and talent - everyone should know better.”

Hossan Leong's response. (PHOTO: Screenshot from Twitter)


Laanya Ezraa Asogan, Miss World Singapore 2017, posted on Instagram saying that she doesn’t think that the brownface ad was “just an ad” and there was “no intended harm”.




Anita Kapoor , a TV presenter and host, called out what she saw as the “horrifying racial backwardness” of Mediacorp’s E-pay campaign.


Jazz pianist Jeremy Monteiro gave his two cents on the brouhaha too, saying that the E-pay ad was insensitive and calling for “more frank and open discussions of the issues of race in safe and open spaces and forums and that we do not continue to mask real issues which need to be discussed and processed so that we can strengthen our social fabric, our racial cohesion and national resilience so that we become stronger as one people.”


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