Now that we’re officially in the month of Ramadan, it’s no surprise that everyone is in ad & commercial full gear. To many Malaysians, you’d probably have seen this one that stuck out like a sore thumb among them all: The Watsons Malaysia’s Raya Ni Mesti Cun ad.
It’s about 11 minutes long, features a huge team of local celebrities from various backgrounds, (which, brownie points for trying) but to be quite honest, is tremendously disappointing to say the least.
Since hitting social media on June 7th, many have come out in anger and disappointment in that
SPOILER ALERT for those of you who still have not yet seen it..
It features a character in blackface, basically to reflect filth and dirt, who is then transformed, somehow magically into a “flawless woman” after going to Watsons.
Here is what I found to be tremendously problematic, in sequence:
(It's a pretty detailed one..but I hope you read it all to the end)
(It's a pretty detailed one..but I hope you read it all to the end)
1. At the very beginning, there was a narrator who had started the ad, the soft, gentle one that you usually hear on the radio. But that narration was abruptly interrupted by a voice, one that I personally found to be tremendously rude, and frankly annoying, who took over the narrative. While the take over was fine, it was the script that went into it that I found absolutely degrading. The new voice pointed out that the original narration was “boring sangat” and so this new voice was going to take over. We find out that the voice belongs to the King’s servant because
2. The servant addresses the king by “orang kaya” and obeys all his orders albeit in a seemingly reckless, clumsy manner. Perhaps this was their way of adding a comical vibe to the ad, but a useless and demeaning one in my opinion. So, is this actually about a king, or a rich man?
3. The King orders the servant to go on a search for a maiden/bride with a beautiful voice to bring a face to the voice in his dreams. Ah, yet another piece approving the objection of women to serve men, a patriarchic move. Bravo. At that point in time, I’m turned off, ready to leave the video, but the reason behind all the fuss, so I go on.
4. The entire thing seems to be set in some depiction of… a desert/ some place that isn’t Malaysia. If this was based on a Malay folklore, then shouldn’t there be tropical forests, and mountain ranges like the ones we actually have here?
5. The servant man wants to make an announcement but his trumpet guy can’t produce a grand enough sound to grab anyone’s attention. So he asks for his trumpet, gets a cuba, and mocks the size of the instrument, yet seems to play a decent short piece off it. But doesn’t even bother to explain what the instrument actually is. All of the above, tremendously insignificant, uninteresting, and uninformative, quite the contrary, in fact. Problematic to say the least. Especially when children in their formative years now heavily relies on social media as a form of out-of-classroom, watches something like this, obtains ill informed knowledge from ads like this. How can we expect them, as they grew up, to make informed and wise choices? Even if we can say that it’s just one ad, what difference does it make? Then I’d like to ask you to think about that one time someone close to you said something really hurtful. No matter how long ago that was, I’m sure it’ll surface. The same goes for kids and learning.
6. Women covered up, showing only their eyes, except the two ladies who I’m guessing are the celebrities... (okay, I don’t really know local celebs very well) Let’s be real here for a minute. Even if you’re trying to place more focus on the two characters, there are much better ways of doing so than to throw others into headscarves covering them up like that. Unless they personally requested that they remained that way on shoot as they do off set. Come on now.
7. Then came shots of women from all over the world who had heard about the news, preparing themselves for the big day. And the first part shows the change from a modest look to an emphasis on “assets”. Simply put, women are being objectified and looked at only for their bodies and their looks.
8. Not to mention, the names of countries & locations in the world had been changed for fictional reasons, but all of them depict some rather stereotypical displays of the countries.
9. With that said, one character in particular stood out as well. One of the characters was depicted to be living in the jungle, dark skinned, and bad teeth, seemingly evil, but after brushing her teeth, had sparkling pearly whites, which made absolutely no sense. She also seemed to have cleaned up really well for the competition day for she showed up in a well-put together outfit, and not to mention extra emphasis on her pearly whites.
10. Then the day of the competition arrived. All the female characters roll in one by one in their best. First to arrive is the princess of China, she looks gorgeous and glamorous, but her head piece hits the top of her podium as she’s exiting. Everyone else who came afterwards had no problems entering. If I could be so quick to assume… this was a mockery of the Chinese, perhaps? Are we playing race politics here? What’s going on?
11. Then comes the Eurasian princess who is supposed to be Rapunsel? Entering with her is also a prince, who not only seems out of place, but has to put up with the madness of the situation. I get it, they’re trying to display the fact that they understand diversity. But apparently it can only take place in the West. A poor attempt at portraying the fact that they care about diversity, especially not after they made only the “Chinese princess” bump her headpiece as another meek attempt at comedy.
12. Then comes the big moment: all the contestants compete. Obviously, they do appallingly. None of them can even carry a note. Seriously? There are people who can sing, and some who can do better. Why did they have to stoop to that level of making everyone become cringe worthy? Immensely degrading of people’s abilities, and completely unnecessary. Plus, the fact that these actors they hired to play the part, are paid a truck ton of money just to be in the commercial, is absolutely pointless.
13. On the same note, the Thai princess. It’s clearly a Thai costume, or again, some depiction of the Thai costume, but acted out by an Indian celebrity. Not only does the character butcher their traditional dance, but makes a serious mockery of it. We get your point, none of them make the cut, but again, all this was unnecessary. Also, there were lots of people on the project, I’m sure, but no one bothered to say something about how ignorant and disrespectful all of this is?
14. Then comes the false winner that was incorrectly announced as a result of “reading the results upside down”. Was this a poke at the Miss Universe pageant and the Oscars with the misread/ confused wins? How many puns had they planned out for this entirety? A low blow, really.
15. Followed by the speech by “Rapunsel”, speaking in poor BM, with an explanation that she’s mixed thus why she’s bad at BM. Another attempt at race politics? Interracial couples and children are roaming around this entire planet, feeling abused and disrespected from being bullied on the daily. But here, is being spotlighted for seemingly eternity. This is essentially saying that mocking interracial children, and even grown ups, is A-OK. Not cool man. NOT. Cool.
16. But then of course, we’ve come to the most highlighted scene of all. The beautiful voice who enters veiled. With the king being tremendously impressed by how beautiful her voice is, he assumes that she’s gorgeous too. A reflection of just how shallow people can be. So he requests for her to unveil herself to everyone. And then yep, you guessed it. BLACK.FACE. Literally, someone had spent hours in make-up, to turn this person black. All of this to reflect black = ugly = dirty. But it doesn’t end there.
17. Everyone is taken aback, shocked by how “dirty” this person is. Obviously. The king, especially, in his fear, asks “where is the lights?” What do you mean where is the lights? It’s kind of like the joke people make when taking a photo with a dark skinned person, insisting that you cannot see the person because of how dark their skin is. It’s insulting, and degrading of not just the person listening to it, but also to the person’s family, heritage, and background. Simply put: RUDE.
18. So, what is the solution for this poor girl? Go to Watson’s of course! In a jiffy after she returns, she no longer has dark skin, but also has a hair full of curly locks, and what seems a “sense of confidence” as she’s more outgoing, talking to the king and telling him that she is in fact “a flawless person”. Thanks to Watson’s. So basically, what this ad is saying, and it is THE sentiments of everyone who has seen it: if you’re dark, it means you’re dirty. Because you’re dirty, you need to clean up, and Watson’s will clean you up and turn you into a “flawless” person. In this sense, “flawless”ness is a few things. One, being “fair”, because yes, fair skin is the only skin that is beautiful. Two, long beautiful locks because you’re a woman. Three, a face full of make up, because natural beauty is just plain ugly. Oh dear. So according to Watson’s standards, anyone who has dark skin is just ugly, and have no confidence. Really, what exactly is the message are they trying to send here?
19. Just when you thought it was all over, sadly, it doesn’t stop there. Upon return from Watson’s, the king falls head over heels for her in an instant. He’s clearly smitten with her as she has the whole package, the voice in his dreams, and now the looks. So he tells her he loves her and proposes to her. Flattered, she accepts it and they “live happily ever after”. Wait sorry, what was the moral of the story again? Right, it’s that we are shallow. Everyone is shallow. Hooray. Wait, there’s more.
20. After their “happily ever after” Watsons song, the Thai queen desperately trying to get one of the other guards to marry her… This is a patriarchic stance on how women are dependent on men by being married to them, thus obtaining happiness. This desperate depiction places women as secondary to men. (I didn't notice this the first time I watched it , only when I had the conversation with someone else & saw it for the 2nd time that I saw it)
21. So in response to all the angry comments on the facebook ad, Watson’s has released an apology. Their apology states that one, the ad was based on “the legend of Dayang Senandong.. a Malay folklore about a lady who was born cursed with black skin but blessed with a beautiful voice. The legend depicts that the king fell in love with Dayang Senandong because of her voice and inner beauty. The curse was lifted after Dayang Senandong gave birth to the king’s child”. Again, another problematic statement as NOWHERE in this ad does it show that the “king in love…because of her voice and inner beauty”. None whatsoever. Also, according to a friend of mine who looked it up in the books of Malay folklore, Dayang Senandong does not exist. Maybe it did in a movie, which we can argue to be fictional as there is no proof of the existence of this very individual. Neither is it an excuse to be used as a reference for blatant racism (note the other racist bits mentioned above)
22. The statement then goes on to say “The video was shot to highlight the legend and its moral values of inner beauty and that true love exists”. I’m not sure about you, but I didn’t see anywhere in this video, true love, or moral values of inner beauty. I’m rather baffled by this particular sentence because correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t love, even more so TRUE love, the meaning of when a person wholly accepts the other for who they are? Both inside, and out? Also correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t inner beauty the definition of when a person stands proud for who they are as a person; their values, their stance, personality, character, and skills, regardless of how beautiful or how ugly others see them? In the video, it showed that “Dayang Senandong” needed a makeover the feel confident about herself. Because if she believed in inner beauty, then she would’ve marched, instead of slowly & carefully walked into the scene face first, not with her face covered. Don’t you think?
23. The apology statement ends by stating that the company takes all the feedback and comments of customers very seriously. The ad has since been pulled from social media and YouTube off their official pages. But if they really were sincere about taking the comments seriously, they would’ve issued a more sincere apology by owning up to what they had released. Instead, all we got was some half-assed-I’m-doing-this-because-I-have-to statement. Why? Because in the statement, it says that they “stand firm on the belief that unity and fairness plays an important role, and (they) respect people form all nationalities.” Well, if you did, you wouldn’t have shot the ad the way you did. If you did, you wouldn’t have approved of the script. AND if you did, you would not approve of how the entire video was edited. Safe to say, that Watson’s apology was definitely insincere through and through.
Look, I get it, we all make mistakes. The people making the ad, they’re human too. From time to time, even the best can slip up. It’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. As a person who has pissed off enough people in my lifetime to fully comprehend a lot more about life, I have had my share of mistakes, and trust you me, I still am making them. It has been through my own life journey of pissing other’s off that I’m learning to be more understanding, and more forgiving of the people who’ve wrong me. It is no easy journey. But one of the biggest downfalls that I believe we all have is the reluctance to own up to our own mistakes. Granted, the world is a really cold place when it comes to even accepting apologies. But when a person, no matter how bad they messed up, offers a sincere apology, it opens the room for conversation. This happens not only for those who are involved, but also to those who are mere observers of the situation. As people, we can tell by the content & tone of the apology whether it is a sincere one. When one is offered, opens up an avenue of dialogue to explain one’s opinions, and why or how what has happened is hurtful. It is important that we’re creating these dialogues, as it creates more mutual understanding, a more open space for progress and growth, not just as an individual but as a society.
Needless to say, I am severely disappointed in what Watson’s has done. The ad was one thing, but the insincere apology, and taking little responsibility for the mistake they’ve made, truly upsets not just me, but I believe many others who have both seen the video, and read the statement by Watson’s. It saddens me to say this, because many times, the service at Watson’s has been above satisfactory. But this was truly uncalled for. So until Watson’s releases a sincere apology (even better if they release a renewed ad that is all-inclusive, with zero (yes, not even subtle racism please!), I have to say that I will be boycotting Watson’s. I really hope that the people at Watson’s wake up and do something about this mess.