KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — It all started with a question: Are Malaysians as racist as all the noise out there on social media seems to suggest?
Advertising agency Naga DDB pitched the idea for a Merdeka Day advertisement, but the client went with another idea in the end.
The original question and idea continued to haunt the creative team so they went ahead to shoot a video where Malaysians of different races were asked to say derogatory statements about another race, such as “Melayu bodoh”, “Indians are smelly”, “Cina semua pendatang.”
The premise was simple: People of different races and ages were asked to come in to “audition” for a short film. Little did they know they were being set up for this social experiment.
But most of the 55 participants refused to repeat those stereotypes even when they were offered money, with one of them even getting enraged and spewing vulgarities when he was repeatedly pushed to do so.
“They all stood up for other races,” Naga DDB creative director Chan Woei Hern said.
He said the few who did read the lines did so with little conviction, and later confessed that they did not believe in what they were told to say.
The completed video was given to Malay Mail Online because “we wanted to sell the idea to a brand that held the same ideals.”
Chan said he and his colleagues were “super nervous” before the three-day-long shoot late last month as they did not know how it would turn out.
To the surprise of executive producer Chow Chun Son from Reservoir World who helped shoot the video, Malaysians turned out not to be racist after all.
“It gave us hope,” he said.
Naga DDB executive creative director Alvin Teoh said the video was more like a documentary.
“It’s easy to write a script about unity and get people to act it out,” Teoh said. ”But when you don’t give them a script, they speak from the heart.”
Naga DDB used interviewers of the same race as the participants. The interviewer would ask the participant to repeat positive statements like “I love Malaysian food” and “I love my country” before asking them to repeat negative stereotypes of other ethnic groups.
Most of the participants were young adults in their 20s and 30s who live in the Klang Valley and come from various backgrounds, including business owners, despatch riders, and homemakers, the Naga DDB executives said.
“It was a pleasant surprise that a huge number of Malaysians are people of reason,” Teoh said.
And the answer to the question of how much it would take to say one of those racist statements? One respondent said, “Not for a million ringgit.”
Happy Malaysia Day!