Blackface might seem like a harmless act but it is actually steeped in centuries of racism. This portrayal of blackface where people darken their skin with shoe polish, greasepaint or burnt cork and paint on enlarged lips and other exaggerated features, peaked in popularity during an era in the United States where demands for civil rights by recently emancipated slaves triggered racial hostility. The showcase of blackface was prominent in stage shows and the performers played characters that perpetuated a range of negative stereotypes about African Americans including being lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, criminal or cowardly.
Well, at first glance, this might seem like an issue encountered exclusively by our Western counterparts however, it would be shocking to know that the blackface “trend” has reached our shores too. And this involves a newly aired drama series on Astro, titled “Dayang Senandung”! This show, starring Wani Kayrie among many others, features herself donning a blackface to play the role of Dayang — following the footsteps of popular 1960s actress Sarimah Ahmad.
Here’s some background information about this show.
According to the production house, Zeel Production, “Dayang Senandung” is a remake of a 1965 film of the same name which was 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.
Following that, the princess 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. The plot of the movie was derived from popular Malay folklore, called “Dayang Senandung” too.
Last year, the production of this show was criticised by netizens following a Tik Tok video by Wani Kayrie featuring a blackface. Various personnel have voiced out their concern towards the drama as it revives a colourist narrative that associates dark skin with black magic and ugliness hence, perpetuating colourism.
Sadly, Zeel Productions refused to halt the production of the drama. According to Malay Mail, Zeel’s Production Director Fadzil Teh said, the drama would “glorify” those with dark skin.
Adding on he stated, “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 stories. 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.”
Recently, a few snippets of the show which was featured on Fadzil Teh’s Instagram page fuelled the anger of netizens all over again as the production company failed to understand the consequences of airing this. The post indicated that “Dayang Senandung” was aired two days ago, on Okey TV.
It’s definitely frustrating to see this recent development in the Malaysian entertainment scene. Blackface should not be normalised at all costs and the narrative that being dark-skinned is equivalent to being ugly should be removed from society in general. Although impossible due to deeply rooted cultural stigmas, let’s all do our part to end colourism!