A Hong Kong actress who darkened her skin to play a Filipina domestic worker on a TVB show has apologised following online backlash.

Actress Franchesca Wong playing the role of a Filipino domestic worker in Barrack O’Karma. Photo: TVB screenshot.

“I sincerely apologise to all who have been negatively affected in any way by the 7th chapter ‘Jei Jei’ of the Barrack O’Karma 1968 drama series, and my role in it. I have learned through this incident that professionally trying my best to analyse, interpret and act a given role to fulfil the storyline, is only part of the job,” Franchesca Wong wrote in a social media post on Wednesday.

“I genuinely have no intention to disrespect or racially discriminate any ethnic group, please forgive me for getting it wrong,” she said.

“I am truly sorry that my insensitivities have offended and hurt. I am committed more than ever to using my acting for the good of the community.”

Her statement was written in English. She did not publish a Chinese version.

TVB, meanwhile, has not apologised. The broadcaster told HKFP on Wednesday that it had “no further comment,” and to refer to its earlier statement defending Wong.

The Canadian-Hongkonger’s apology comes a week after an Instagram video of her applying dark make-up on her legs went viral. Affecting a Filipino accent, she joked that she was “sun-tanning right now” and “transforming into another person.”

The now-removed clip sparked anger, with Filipinos and migrant workers’ rights groups calling her out for racism and questioning why TVB could not have hired a Filipina actress instead.

Franchesca Wong. Photo: lamkingching via Instagram screenshot.

Consul General Raly Tejada, the Philippine envoy to Hong Kong, called the TV drama “downright ignorant, insensitive and totally disgusting.”

Local media reviews of Wong’s portrayal, however, were largely favourable and skipped discussion of race. Commenters on Wong’s apology said they did not think the actress was in the wrong and that she had done a “great job” on the show.

Ricky Chu, chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said last week that while TVB should have been more sensitive, he did not think all blackface was necessarily wrong.

Marginalising the marginalised

Migrant workers rights’ activists said they appreciated Wong’s statement, but were disappointed that TVB – the city’s leading broadcaster – had yet to apologise.

Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“It’s good that she [has apologised],” Eni Lestari, a domestic worker and chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance, told HKFP. “We don’t really put blame on her. I think the issue is, she just doesn’t understand the consequences of her acting.”

“The biggest issue is TVB itself who are creating this kind of drama. [They are] all the more marginalising the already marginalised community,” Lestari said, adding that the show’s plot – in which the domestic worker is a witch – is “very problematic.”

TVB City. Photo: TVB.

In a statement last week, TVB said the show was “simply a dramatic story plot based on creativity… through [Wong]’s professional performing techniques and sophisticated handling of role-playing.”

Marites Palma, founder of the group Social Justice for Migrant Workers, said Wong was “humble” to apologise but that she thought she was only “following instructions.”

“The director and TVB should apologise… not only [to] Filipinos but to all ethnic minorities in Hong Kong,” she told HKFP.

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.