Entertainment TV Humour or racism? Chris Lilley video sparks new controversy

Humour or racism? Chris Lilley video sparks new controversy

Chris Lilley
Chris Lilley has apologised for the timing of his controversial post, not the content. Photo: Princess Pictures
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Australian comedian Chris Lilley has come under fire for posting a blackface video likened to young Aboriginal boy Elijah Doughty on social media.

Lilley shared his 2009 music video Squashed N—- on Saturday featuring his Angry Boys character S.Mouse, just days after the verdict over Elijah’s death was handed down.

It’s the latest controversy for the actor, who has previously been accused of masquerading racism as humour in his portrayal of non-white characters.

Elijah, 14, had been riding a motorbike in August last year when he was chased and hit by a man driving a ute. The man said he had gone looking for two stolen motorbikes at a reserve in Kalgoolie-Boulder, 600km east of Perth.

The man, who cannot be identified, was cleared by the Perth Supreme Court of manslaughter on July 21 and was sentenced to three years in jail for dangerous driving causing death.

The verdict sparked national protests against the court ruling.

The video, a fan-made remix which Lilley has since deleted, features lyrics about an Aboriginal boy who is killed by a truck. Indigenous musician Briggs, Cleverman director Ryan Griffen and writer Natalie Cromb have called it racist.

Lilley later apologised for the video, saying his post was not connected in any way to the incident involving Elijah. He said he was sorry for any hurt.

Lilley accused of wearing ‘brownface’, racial stereotyping

Lilley has previously come under fire for his depictions of different ethnicities on his television shows.

His Summer Heights High spinoff Jonah from Tonga was widely condemned on release, as Lilley was criticised for racial stereotyping, using derogatory terms and wearing “brownface”.

The show, which ran for six episodes in 2014, follows 14-year-old schoolboy Jonah Takalua, who is of Tongan descent.

The Tongan community denounced Lilley’s portrayal on social media with the creation of the ‘My Name is NOT Jonah’ movement on Facebook, which sought to counter Lilley’s depiction of Tongan people going to prison and being kicked out of school.

Jumping on board the movement My Name Is NOT Jonah, alongside my fellow poly brothers & sisters at uni. This movement is…

Posted by Lupe Toleafoa on 2014年5月17日

‘Only certain races that it’s an issue’

In an interview with Vulture in 2011, Lilley highlighted the controversial nature of playing a black character and the backlash he received.

He went on to make the distinction that “only certain races” are an issue to portray.

“I wanted to do it because I thought it was a challenging, new, interesting idea, and mostly I just thought it was a really funny character,” Lilley said.

“The funny thing is, I played a Chinese student in We Can Be Heroes, I played a Tongan boy in Summer Heights High, and I play a Japanese woman also in Angry Boys, but the only one that people talk about is S.Mouse.

“It’s kind of funny that there’s only certain races that it’s an issue – yes, it’s that history with blackface – but, I don’t know.

“There’s no comparison. I think it’s a bit stupid that you would shut yourself off to being able to do that.”

Jonah from Tonga pulled from NZ television

Chris Lilley
Jonah from Tonga has been axed by New Zealand television. Photo: ABC

In July this year Jonah from Tonga was pulled from New Zealand channel Maori Television after the screening of the first episode.

New Zealand’s minister for Pacific peoples Alfred Ngaro said the series “perpetuates negative stereotypes of Pacific people” and “the fact it is pitched as comedy doesn’t make that any more acceptable”.

Maori Television chairman Georgina te Heuheu said the show was withdrawn because it didn’t meet the standards of the station.

“We are a Māori media outlet with our own standards, and a mandate to protect and promote the Māori language and culture,” Ms te Heuheu said.

“This means that, as a leading indigenous broadcaster, we have a responsibility to present all cultures with a degree of respect and aroha not least those of our Pacific whanaunga.”

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