UPDATE: Actor Chase Tan has apologised to the LGBTQ community (see below for his full apology).
SINGAPORE — National broadcaster Mediacorp is receiving a lot of flak for a Chinese-language drama series, My Guardian Angels, which contains negative representations of gay people.
Netizens have criticised Channel 8 and Mediacorp over a male paedophilic character who molests teenage boys and has a sexually transmitted disease, and scenes where characters behave in homophobic ways.
The uproar has spread on various social media platforms frequented by younger people, including Instagram, Twitter and Reddit. Netizens have spammed the Instagram accounts of Mediacorp and actors Chase Tan, Kym Ng and Brandon Wong for their roles in the TV series which perpetuate negative perceptions of gay people.
Under Mediacorp’s latest Instagram post (which is unrelated to My Guardian Angels), there are more than 1,400 comments. Many of them are angry comments about the broadcaster’s portrayal of negative gay stereotypes and call for the company to apologise.
Mediacorp released a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle SEA responding to the criticism, saying that “there is no intention to disrespect or discriminate against any persons or community in the drama”. The statement did not offer an apology. (See below for the full statement.)
My Guardian Angels is a 30-episode series which aired on Channel 8 in April and May. However, the drama is still available for viewing on YouTube and Mediacorp’s streaming service, meWatch. The show also stars Zoe Tay, Pierre Png, Kym Ng, Brandon Wong, Hong Ling, Chen Tianwen, Jin Yin Ji, Benjamin Tan, Edwin Goh and Fang Rong.
The furore over the TV show began on Monday (29 June) after gay business owner Teo Yu Sheng posted comments about the drama on the Instagram account of his queer brand, Heckin’ Unicorn. Teo, 29, highlighted storylines and scenes in My Guardian Angels which he said promote false negative perceptions of the LGBTQ community.
One character, a basketball coach played by Chase Tan, molests a teenage boy in one of the scenes. It is implied that the character goes on to sexually assault another boy off-camera later in the series, and spreads an STD (sexually transmitted disease) to the boy.
In other scenes, characters played by Kym Ng and Brandon Wong behave in a homophobic manner. The two actors play a couple in My Guardian Angels.
In one scene, Kym Ng and Brandon Wong’s characters talk about their son’s (played by Benjamin Tan) romantic life. Kym Ng’s character, Miao Miao, expresses concern that their son is wooing a woman, but Brandon Wong says, “Why are you worried? At least it’s a girl, not a guy.”
In another scene, Miao Miao stalks her son as she is anxious that he might be romantically involved with a male friend of his. She sees the two kissing and yells out loudly for them to stop, admonishing her son for his gay behaviour. (The two characters turned out not to be gay.)
Members of the LGBTQ community said the paedophile character perpetuates a false stereotype of gay men as perverted sexual predators. Some pointed out that such problematic portrayals of queer people are not balanced by positive portrayals in local media. Singapore’s censorship policy forbids positive portrayals of LGBTQ people in the media.
In his Instagram post on the account Heckin’ Unicorn, Teo said, “We’re extremely disgusted that our country’s only free-to-air TV broadcaster has decided to take such a low blow on Singapore’s LGBTQ+ community. Perpetuating negative stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community is bad enough in itself. But when you consider the fact that LGBTQ+ individuals can’t legally be portrayed positively in local TV shows, you’ll quickly realise just how low Mediacorp went with this move.”
One user commented on Mediacorp’s Instagram page, “If the scriptwriters, directors, and actors/actresses don’t know how and what it’s like to be part of the LGBTQ+ community, then DON’T EVEN TRY CREATING SUCH CHARACTERS. Your story plots are disgusting. This convinces me to stop supporting local dramas.”
Mediacorp said in response to queries by Yahoo Lifestyle SEA:
“We would like to assure that there is no intention to disrespect or discriminate against any persons or community in the drama, My Guardian Angels. The drama aims to reflect scenarios and stories that are close to real-life.
The sub-plot involving Kym Ng’s character – an overly protective mother - seeks to highlight the mother’s concern for her teenage son as he grapples with growing-up issues. On the paedophile character, the intention and overall message of that sub-plot is to encourage young people to be aware of potential dangers, and to speak up and protect themselves.
We take feedback seriously and will continue to exercise vigilance and be more mindful in our portrayal of characters.”
Mediacorp posted the same statement above on Instagram on Tuesday (30 June) in response to the critical comments of netizens. Twitter users reported that Mediacorp and Channel 8 released the statement on Twitter too, but later deleted the posts.
Teo continued to share his comments on the Instagram account Heckin’ Unicorn and responded to Mediacorp’s statement: “You may claim the lack of intent to be discriminatory, but it doesn’t make your actions any less so. Your response is also terribly tone-deaf, because you continue to dig into the stereotype that children need to be aware of the “dangers of gay people”.
“Your lack of apology is glaring, and it reflects the kinds of values that your company lacks,” Teo added.
Yahoo Lifestyle SEA has reached out to the actors for comment.
In Singapore, where gay sex is illegal, movies and TV shows that depict queer characters usually receive at least an M18 rating, or an R21 rating if the LGBTQ content is considered egregious enough. (Only people above the ages of 18 or 21 can watch content with such ratings.)
Positive portrayals of LGBTQ people in media are not allowed, under broadcasting rules.
The government’s reason for such censorship is that media content should not “promote homosexual lifestyles”.
[UPDATE]: Chase Tan has apologised to the LGBTQ community. In an Instagram post, he said:
“Hi everyone, I’m sorry for taking some time to respond to your feedback regarding a role I played in the recent Channel 8 drama series, My Guardian Angels. I’ve been using the time to reflect and gather my thoughts as I understand that I need to address this.
I’m deeply saddened that the role I played has caused distress in the community and I’d like to emphasise that it was never my intention. I'm an aspiring actor and every opportunity given to me is precious. I do not mean to disrespect anyone in the process.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working alongside very talented and professional LGBTQ individuals. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feedback. I sincerely apologise and I will continuously strive to do better.