Photo credit: Koh

Playing a role or a race

Is it racism or 'just acting'?

Rosalind Ang

Published: 30 May 2017, 3:07 PM

Are stereotypes in media just there for laughs, or is it an underlying menace?

Singaporean actor Shrey Bhargava posted a Facebook post on May 29 about his  experience during a casting audition for Ah Boys to Men 4.

He alleged that he was asked to play a “full blown Indian man” with a thick Indian accent, and that he had to “make it funny”.

Following the audition, Shrey felt that he was “reduced” to his accent after being told to told to “portray a caricature” of his race.

What’s going on?

Over the weekend, Shrey’s post received a mixture of reactions from Singaporeans alike. While some supported him for speaking out on the matter, many criticised him for not being professional. Some even felt that he was overreacting.

Local celebrities, Xiaxue and Maxi Lim, also spoke up about the issue. They both accused Shrey of hypocrisy, as he had previously performed stand-up comedy with accents in the past.

The last time Singaporeans were riled up over the portrayal of minority characters was in October last year, when Mediacorp’s online entertainment service, Toggle, made a “blackface” blunder.

In that incident, a Chinese actor had painted his face black to portray characters of Indian and African descent in an episode of its original series, I Want To Be A Star.

In the latest incident, many have pointed out that stereotypes abound onscreen, and are not limited to race. For example, Asian actors in Hollywood have been casted to play typical roles like prostitutes and nerds – sometimes with exaggerated accents as well.

Evangeline Braan, 20, felt disappointed that such racial stereotypes are still happening in Singapore media.

The polytechnic graduate said: “Ah Boys to Men has been a hit among Singaporeans as it connects us through the Singaporean experience of National Service. But if you’re expecting Indian people to have an ‘Indian’ accent despite being born and bred in Singapore, that is truly disappointing.”

Pre-school teacher, Hazmiza Hassan, 31, felt that exaggerating minority accents is not representative of how people truly speak in Singapore.

Ah Boys to Men is already a Chinese dominated movie. Why do they need the few actors from minority races to act less Singaporean?” she said.

On the other hand, some netizens felt that acting is the art of portraying fictional roles in media.

NSF Tan Jit Jenn, 22, said: “Audiences need to understand that there is no co-existence between films and reality. Racism is more than just stereotyping in films.”

Others believe that allowing racial stereotypes to run rampant in movies and television shows could cause a rift between the different races in the long run.


A comment on Shrey Bhargava’s post.
Photo credit: Facebook


For Ng Hui Ling, the incident seemed like a case of using the minority race as a pawn for jokes.

The 24-year-old social worker said: “Discrimination is so subtle and institutionalised in Singapore that we take it for granted. By featuring an Indian character reduced to stereotypes, it solidifies the belief that all Indian people are essentially this stereotype.”

“Dismissing it as harmless comedy neglects the fact that media images reinforces our perception of reality,” she added.

27-year-old executive Hudzaifah Juwanda shared the same sentiments.

Hudzaifah said: “Ultimately, this situation is a symptom of greater underlying issues, namely the problem of majority privilege. The fact that minorities are expected to take such behaviour in their stride simply because they need to ‘lighten up, it’s just a joke’ just goes to show how disconnected the different races have become.”

What’s your take?

  1. Do you think racial stereotypes portrayed in the local media affects how we perceive other races? Why?

Tell us what you think by leaving a comment on our article or social media platforms! Submit the best response by June 13 and win a $10 Coffee Bean voucher!

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