By now you’ve probably watched the disgusting campaign video produced by Watsons Malaysia. If you haven’t, here’s what you need to know:
It’s a story about a Prince (played by Kamal Adli) who is desperate to find a woman who’s been appearing in his dreams (think of it as cheap interpretation of Sleeping Beauty‘s iconic lyric “I know you, I’ve walked with you once upon a dream”) – to marry her, obviously.
In typical fairytale-fashion, the undoubtedly mentally-stable Prince then asks his men to announce that he’d be hosting a competition to find the woman he’s been romanticising in his head.
We’re then blessed with a showcase of the different princesses in this video such as Puteri Gunung Rendang and Puteri Mayang Mengurai – an Asian person portraying herself as a Caucasian princess who resides in Princess Castle, Negara Barat. Creative names, right? It gets better!
To glamorise the characters even further, the princesses were played by several Malaysian celebrities such as a very Malaysian Thanuja Ananthan as a Siamese national and Amber Chia as Puteri Hang Po Po.
But my favourite character is the Indian Princess named Laila Majmuk (it doesn’t get anymore Indian than Laila, right?) who is played by um, Uqasha Senrose… wait, why was Thanuja a Siamese royalty when she could have easily played this role?
Knowing that with all the resources Watsons had at its disposal, the brand choosing not to use an Indian person to play the role of an Indian princess was heartwarming to watch, for sure. But then again, why didn’t Thanuja herself say something about the mismatched roles as passionately as she does when it concerns animals? Who knows!
Before anyone jumps on the “Don’t blame the celebrities, they didn’t know what they were doing and this was just a job!” wagon, let’s remember that when Kendall Jenner accepted to be part of Pepsi’s cheap way of capitalising on the political climate in America, the criticism was distributed towards both Pepsi and Kendall. So, the fault here will follow in that same vein.
As people who claim to have an influence, they should have at least thought about whether this project was worth being involved in or not. They could have used their status to suggest something better. Something tasteful. Unfortunately though, this requires a person to have some level of responsibility to the bigger culture they’re contributing to, which several Malaysian celebrities seem to lack here.
For these Malaysian celebrities, it is quite clear that upholding their supposed beliefs of not discriminating anybody of different racial and cultural background is not as valuable as getting a paycheque.
There’s a saying that money is the root of all evil. It isn’t though, being ignorant is. Take Amber Chia’s response to the publishing of this video as an example of the previous statement:
Thicker than honey, folks.
It gets worse. After introducing the pseudo-princesses and watching them (hopefully) end their careers, another character named Harum Senandung (played by Ruhainies) appeared on screen. Her face is covered but her voice is less haunting than the others. What is she hiding? The prince soon finds out.
The Prince reasons with her to remove the scarf by suggesting that her “face must be as beautiful” as her voice. She then takes the scarf off and reveals herself and her dark skin, which we find out at the end she painted on herself. Why, hello again, old friend blackface – did the Raja Lawak guys penned the script for this ad?
The prince and the entire room are shocked by her complexion. They all gasp. Then, he jokes about having a lighting problem (“Takde lighting ke?”) and after finally acknowledging that that’s how she looks like, he asks the room to confirm if she’s “actually dark.”
Which begs the question; what the hell is so confusing about someone from this region having darker skin tones? The atrocity doesn’t stop there though! Harum Senandung then reveals her reason for using blackface earlier was to test the Prince’s sincerity towards her. Her exact words were, “I’m not dark, in fact, I’m flawless!”
Does being fairer or having the ability to morph into a tomato when you’ve been exposed under the sun for a good 10 minutes automatically gives the right to reign superior over someone who’s been blessed by the melanin gods? No, it does not. In a country still hung up over its colonial past, one that seems to take pleasure in white people being called out on their racist antics, it’s perplexing why within our own country’s racial makeup the same antiquated belief that white is beautiful still stubbornly exists.
The video then ends with a dance number that’s complemented with a terrible jingle that tells Watsons customers that they “must be beautiful this Raya!” They mean white.
This is another piss-poor attempt by Malaysians trying to be funny. I would suggest that to recover from this travesty, the team behind this sickening production schedule a CT scan for themselves to see if they have anything in between their ears before continuing creating more content.
Between worshipping Arab culture (well, a problematic Aladdin version of it at least), the cultural minstrelsy of the whole video, body shaming, and blatantly stating that there’s something wrong with being dark, it’s hard for me to choose the worst thing about this video. But the last one is definitely the most worrying.
Imagine for a moment having to describe this piece of work to someone who is dark? Or to justify to an Indian person why there was a need to use someone who isn’t of their race to portray their people? Or having to explain using dark skin tones to insinuate ugliness and that unless you’re fair you probably won’t be married? That should be a video.
#LegendaCun Raya will most likely be defended as Watsons’ attempt at “being funny” but people need to understand the difference between making a joke and being a joke; and that’s exactly what everyone involved in this production is, a disgraceful joke.
In the bigger picture though, this was produced in Malaysia where grown adults tell their children to behave or else the ‘Indian man will take them’ away. This is the country where having a darker skin tone excludes you from being eligible to rent and from applying for jobs. This is where news anchors on Astro are allowed to say ‘keling’ on air. So, I suppose in retrospect, this campaign is okay. It’s part of the society the majority of its people and its leaders have chosen to construct; it’s a show of where we are at when it comes to progress.
There’s only one instance in which using any form of discrimination in the context of your work is appropriate; when you want to run yourself and your business to the ground and I sincerely hope that’s the fate that awaits Watsons Malaysia and everyone that was part of this shameful production.
Usually we’d like to divert people from giving a distasteful product/person anymore airtime or numbers than it deserves but for this one, seeing as it’s incredibly special, it’d be best if you watched it for yourself. Share it. Leave constructive comments and call Watsons and anyone who supports the video out on their racism. If you don’t do it, it’s only going to be a matter of time before the next one is produced.
Update: Watsons Malaysia have taken down the video and issued this ‘apology’:
“We stand firm on the belief that unity and fairness plays an important role…”
Well, fuck you very much too,
Express your displeasure at Watsons Malaysia here.