Hong Kong broadcaster TVB has been accused of using blackface in a television drama episode, just months after an actress apologised for donning brown make-up to play a Filipino domestic worker.

Come Home Love: Lo and Behold
An episode of TVB drama’s “Come Home Love: Lo and Behold,” in which the actors wear black make-up. Photo: TVB, via screenshot.

In an episode of Come Home Love: Lo and Behold, which aired on Monday night, four people working for a funeral services company are seen wearing black make-up while singing and dancing as they carry a coffin out of a room at a memorial.

Music plays in the background as the characters, in black suits and ties, rap: “We’ll see [the deceased] one day… rest in peace.”

The funeralgoers clap to to the song and appear impressed by the performance, with one of them saying at the end that she has “never seen such a brilliant funeral.”

Blackface – when people darken their skin – is steeped in centuries of racism, and has long been used to denigrate and dehumanise people of African descent.

YouTube video

The scene appeared to reference a video that went viral in 2020 and became known as the “dancing coffin” meme, in which pallbearers in Ghana break into dance, balancing the coffin on their shoulders while clapping and getting down on all fours.

In a response to HKFP, TVB said the episode was “purely fictitious.”

“The characters wearing special make-up were simply designed as a dramatic story plot based on creativity,” the broadcaster wrote.

It added that it had no intention to “show disrespect or to discriminate any person’s in any of [their] drama or non-drama programmes.”

The agents of the four actors said they had no comment and to direct enquiries to the broadcaster’s public relations department.

Come Home Love: Lo and Behold has aired on TVB since 2017. The show revolves around two families’ work lives and relationships.

Lesson not learnt

On Twitter, users criticised TVB for not having learnt from a controversy in April, when actress Franchesca Wong shared an Instagram video of her applying dark make-up to her skin to play the role of a Filipina domestic worker.

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. Local media reviews of Wong’s portrayal were largely positive and generally did not touch on race, with some suggesting that the portrayal of the actress was not problematic.

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

TVB issued a statement following media reports of the controversy, in which it defended Wong’s “sophisticated handling of role-playing” and said it had no intention to disrespect any nationality.

Wong herself apologised in an English-only social media post a week after. TVB did not.

See also: Representation matters in Hong Kong – Why brownface in TVB drama is offensive

Comments on videos of the recent Come Home Love: Lo and Behold episode uploaded to TVB’s YouTube channel, however, skipped discussion of blackface and praised the scene.

“[The funeral service company] performed the pallbearers’ coffin dance,” one comment read. “It’s so funny!”

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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.