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Singaporean Broadcaster’s Advertisement Prompts ‘Brownface’ Controversy

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Singapore’s state-owned broadcaster apologized this week for an ad campaign that sparked accusations of “brownface” after an ethnically Chinese actor darkened his skin to play characters of other races, Agence France-Presse reports.

The advertisement for an electronic payment system featured Singaporean actor Dennis Chew portraying four different characters, including what appeared to be an Indian man and a Malay woman in a headscarf. Each character held a plate of food purchased electronically to promote cashless transactions.

Critics questioned why broadcaster Mediacorp didn’t hire a multiracial cast reflective of the diverse city-state. The island of nearly 6 million is 74% ethnic Chinese, 13% ethnic Malay and 9% ethnic Indian, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The ad quickly ignited outcry on social media.

“They could have hired an artist for every single race? Is it really hard?” one Twitter user said, according to AFP.

“Brownface in a Singaporean ad in 2019. I thought we already went over this,” local magazine editor Ruby Thiagarajan tweeted on Monday.

Via its celebrity management agency, Mediacorp apologized “for any hurt that was unintentionally caused.” The broadcaster did not confirm whether the ad had been pulled.

The incident follows in the wake of several other “blackface” and “brownface” controversies.

Earlier this month, an Italian airline apologized after facing criticism for a promotional video featuring an actor wearing blackface to portray former President Barack Obama. In February, singer Katy Perry pulled two of her namesake-branded shoes after complaints that the design resembled blackface.

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Write to Amy Gunia at amy.gunia@time.com