US online newspaper The Huffington Post has called on HBO to dump comedian Chris Lilley’s TV comedy series Jonah From Tonga because it’s “racist”.
In an opinion piece, entitled: Will HBO Give Platform to Racist Australian Brownface Mockumentary?, writer Cleo Paskal takes aim at Lilley for racial stereotyping, using derogatory terms and for donning “brownface”.
Jonah From Tonga, aired on the ABC earlier this year and was a ratings failure, rarely attracting more than 250,000 viewers.
It has been picked up by US cable network HBO.
“This racist teenaged pastiche is being played by Chris Lilley, a 39-year-old white guy, in a permed wig and brownface. Yes, brownface. In 2014,” wrote Paskal.
Paskal didn’t hold back in tearing down the series.
She gave reasons why HBO would be better off ditching Jonah From Tonga, which is about schoolboy Jonah Takalua whose is of Tongan descent.
“Jonah is in trouble with the law, is a horrific bully, homophobic, and regularly sexually harasses women teachers, his aunts and even a nun. Academically, he is failing and is being parked in a remedial education unit known in the show as “spaz“ house (thanks, Australia, for breathing new life into that almost forgotten derogatory term),” Paskal writes.
She says if HBO goes ahead with Jonah from Tonga, it will lead to a “new form of racism being created” in the US.
“And the lives of a whole lot of people will get that much worse,” Paskal wrote.
Earlier this year, the ABC was forced to defend the program after a backlash from some members of the Tongan community in Australia.
Sydney’s Leitu Havea posted her protest on Facebook.
“My Name is Leitu Havea, I am a proud Tongan.
“I’ve never spent time in prison, I was never suspended from school, I am currently studying for my university degree,” Havea wrote on a sign she posted on her Facebook page.
Fellow Tongan Salote Tuakalau followed suit by posting a similar statement on her Facebook page.
The Voice star Prinnie Stevens also shared her distaste.
“I have always despised the stereotypes that society put upon us as Tongans/Polynesian people,” Stevens said at the time.
Their concerns also had the backing of Professor Helen Lee, head of La Trobe University’s department of sociology and anthropology.
“I think it’s dreadful. It’s just awful. It’s creating a terrible stereotype that’s just deeply offensive to Tongans,” she told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat in May.
The ABC said the series did not encourage or condone prejudice.
“Instead Chris Lilley’s portrayals mock and satirise the narrow-minded attitudes expressed by some of its characters, including his own,” Rick Kalowski, ABC TV’s head of comedy, was quoted on abc.net.au.
Jonah from Tonga, is scheduled to premiere in the US on the HBO network on August 8.