- HBO (US & Canada), Ms. Melanie Brunt, Laura Waters and Chris LilleyPrincess Pictures
- Catherine McleodHBO Canada
- Jeffrey BewkesCEO/President, Time Warner
- Kevin CrullBell Media/HBO Canada
- Richard FinlaysonAustralian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
Please pull "brownface" show "Jonah from Tonga" from HBO
I'm a Tongan-American. I served in the U.S. Marines. Two tours in Iraq. I was California Veteran of the Year in 2011. I am currently the Chairman of the Veterans Employment Committee in San Mateo County. My four brothers also served honourably in the U.S. military.
I am deeply concerned about ‘Jonah from Tonga’, an Australian brown-face “mockumentary” due to air on HBO.
In the series, Jonah, a violent and abusive 14 year old ‘Tongan’ boy, is played by the show’s writer, Chris Lilley, a 39-year-old Australian Caucasian, in brown face make-up and a curly haired wig. In addition to the astounding inherent generalised racism, the show specifically targets and attempts to denigrate Tongan culture -- an ancient, deep, and complex culture based on faith, family, respect, and humility.
For Americans, most of whom have little knowledge about Tonga, this series will shape the way they think about the nation, its culture and its people. So what will they learn?
All of the teenage 'Tongan' boys in the show are low achievers, gang members or in jail. Much of the ‘comedy’ is derived from Jonah’s acts of violence, sexual aggression, ignorance and profanity. Jonah swears at his sister and his father. He is extremely disrespectful to teachers. He is sexually suggestive to his aunt and a nun. His father swears during prayers. His sister swears at him.
All of this is deeply offensive in Tongan culture in which respect for elders and women are core pillars. Tonga is a devoutly religious country, very family-oriented, with one of the highest PhD rates per capita. This is not satire, this is anti-Tongan propaganda that plays into Australia’s self-appointed role as the ‘civilizers’ of the Pacific.
The truth is, Tonga is a loyal friend of the US. It has troops in Afghanistan, large, devout communities in Salt Lake City and elsewhere, academics in US higher education, and players in major US sports teams. This show drives a wedge in that relationship. And for what?
Tongans have been taking to social media to try to get the message out that they are not like Jonah. They are listing academic achievements, work in the community and the fact that they have no criminal record. They shouldn't have to.
This is not the first time Lilley has used the guise of 'comedy' to attack minorities. His other 'characters' include an abusive Japanese-Australian mother, a 1950s caricature of a gay high school drama teacher, a Chinese-Australian who likes to dress up as an Aboriginal-Australian, and a blackface African-American rapper.
Just to be clear, Lilley isn't doing all this damage and creating this harm to make a deeper point. Lilley himself said: "It's not like I'm trying to make any deep social commentary. These are just characters and situations I find funny."
HBO, please, don't do this. Don't import someone else's racism. Don't slander a whole nation and sacrifice the future of young Tongans (and others) for the sake of this series. It will affect them. Good kids will get marginalised, teased, denied employment. I try to find employment for veterans, I know how hard it is already for people to get a job. Please do the right thing and pull “Jonah from Tonga” from the schedule. It won't cost you that much money, but running it will cost Tonga and Tongans -- and all other victims of this sort of racism -- a lot for years to come.
Today, I am asking you to stand with me for an America sees the potential in all people, rather than singling out some to taunt and fear. We are better that this. HBO, please, show you are as well.
- Princess Pictures
HBO (US & Canada), Ms. Melanie Brunt, Laura Waters and Chris Lilley
- HBO Canada
- CEO/President, Time Warner
- Bell Media/HBO Canada
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
Please pull Jonah from Tonga from HBO. It won't cost you that much but running it will cost Tonga, and Tongans a lot, for years to come. Malo 'aupito.
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