‘This is legit brownface’: Ad by Singapore’s e-payment solutions initiative attracts backlash

Fellow Singaporeans, do we need another lesson on racism? Apparently, it looks like we do.

A recent advertisement by E-Pay, an initiative by the government to roll out electronic payment solutions in coffee shops, hawker centers, and industrial canteens across Singapore, is being slammed for featuring Chinese Mediacorp artiste Dennis Chew as characters of other races.

Not only does Chew’s skin appear visibly darker, but he is also shown wearing a lanyard with the name “K Muthusamy” printed on the card.

The ad is sprawled across the website’s homepage, with a clearer image of Chew as the Indian man in the FAQ section. We also found a large banner with the same images hanging at Maxwell Food Centre.

Not surprisingly, the offensive photos have pissed more than a few Singaporeans off.

Twitter user Ruby Thiagarajan called it out on the platform saying: “Brownface in a Singaporean ad in 2019. I thought we already went over this …”

Her tweet has already been retweeted more than 300 times.


On Instagram, user @darthfaris said: “Y’all this is legit brownface… you’ve literally got a Chinese dude playing ‘K. Muthusamy’.”

The same user also took issue with the ad for using Chew to portray a Malay woman wearing a headscarf.

In one of his Instagram stories, the user said: “Malay women in tudungs are not f***ing characters for you to impersonate la.”

In case you didn’t know, tudung is the Malay term for a headscarf or hijab.

On Reddit, user peanutspawn said: “Dennis Chew is doing brownface… Even without the brownface, why one guy to dress as the different races though?”

Perhaps the campaign didn’t have enough of a budget to hire actual actors to represent their own race. Or it made the (wrong) assumption that Chew was versatile enough to portray people from different races, backgrounds, and genders — and that the public would be okay with it. But whatever the case, it seems Singapore hasn’t learned from its past mistakes.

In 2016, the Mediacorp-owned entertainment platform Toggle sort of apologized after featuring actor Shane Pow as a black man in the sixth episode of its original series I Want To Be A Star.

In a statement, they said: “The scene has been perceived as being racially insensitive by some viewers, although that was never our intention in the production.”

To get a vibe on how the issue is treated around the region, feel free to check out these other Coconuts stories from Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Manila.

This article, ‘This is legit brownface’: Ad by Singapore’s e-payment solutions initiative attracts backlash, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!