PETALING JAYA, June 19 — Zeel Production director Fadzil Teh has defended the use of blackface in the Malaysian TV drama Dayang Senandung.
This despite Malaysian Twitter users expressing outrage and shock over actress Wani Kayrie who uploaded several Instagram Stories and TikTok videos of herself with her face painted black for the role of Dayang.
Fadzil, also known as Haji Zeel, insisted that Dayang Senandung is not offensive to black people when contacted by Malay Mail.
In fact, he said, the drama will “glorify” those who have dark skin.
“As producers, we only wanted to make a story based on a mythological tale.
“Our drama is not insulting towards people with black skin. In fact, we glorify them in our story.
“So far (we have no plans to reshoot) because this is the story and character that was greenlit when we pitched the show earlier this year.
“The character of Dayang will change to become beautiful again at the end of the story,” Fadzil told Malay Mail.
someone??pls tell me?? whats going on??? pic.twitter.com/mdUDFHHaMG— elle (@elrynnaa) June 18, 2020
Dayang Senandung was heavily criticised by social media users who pointed out that the drama revives a colourist narrative that associates dark skin with black magic and ugliness.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that Dayang Senandung is problematic. Just because it's old and a legend or a folklore doesn't mean it's right.
“The fable taught us COLOURISM. It taught us that dark, black skin is UGLY and is CURSED. It taught us that being different makes us UNWANTED,” said one Twitter user.
Another user said that the folk tale should stop being adapted into modern-day dramas because of its antiquated ideals of equating fairness with beauty.
“I know you guys want to be defensive about Dayang Senandung to avoid how blatantly problematic it is but to say they should've cast a dark-skinned girl is also a really bad idea.
“It’s still in the colourism field. Easy, just discontinue the folklore storyline. It's 2020,” wrote the user.
A Change.org petition titled “Hentikan Produksi Drama Dayang Senandung! (Stop the Production of the Drama Dayang Senandung!)” has garnered almost 3,000 signatures at press time.
Others stood by Zeel Production’s decision by claiming that Dayang Senandung is rooted in local heritage and should be defended.
“Dayang Senandung is just a legend, just like Mahsuri is an old folks story. Same goes to orang minyak, they are in black.
“Nothing about racism, it’s just the symbol of darkness equals evil,” one person wrote on Twitter.
Zeel Production’s Dayang Senandung is a remake of a 1965 film of the same name directed by Jamil Sulong.
The movie tells the story of a Malay princess who is cursed with black skin at birth by a vengeful commoner who was wrongly sentenced to death by the sultan.
The princess then faces abuse and persecution while growing up due to her appearance, particularly by her mother-in-law who devised an unsuccessful plot to kill her.
Wani had followed in the footsteps of popular 1960s actress Sarimah Ahmad who also donned blackface to play the role of Dayang.
The use of blackface makeup is commonly associated with minstrel performances, an American form of entertainment that became prominent in the 19th century.
White performers would paint themselves black to portray people of African descent while perpetuating negative stereotypes that depicted them as lazy, unintelligent, superstitious, villainous, hypersexual, and buffoonish.
While the use of blackface in Malaysia is often detached from its racist significance in the United States, it is commonly used to paint a negative caricature of people with darker skin.
Watsons Malaysia was slammed in 2017 for their Hari Raya advertisement that also referenced the Dayang Senandung legend and showed a wealthy prince who was disgusted by a woman’s love because she had dark skin.
Local TV show MeleTOP also apologised in 2016 after a comedian used blackface in a parody of African American musician Usher and Malaysian singer Yuna's performance of their song Crush.