Calls to dump 'racist' Jonah From Tonga in US

Last updated 09:48 17/07/2014
Jonah from Tonga

ACCUSED OF 'BROWFACE': Chris Lilley (centre) as Jonah, a 14-year-old Australian boy of 'Tongan' descent.

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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 in Australia earlier this year and was a ratings failure. It is screening on Comedy Central at the moment and was 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 who is of Tongan descent.

The Tongan community in the US has lashed out at <i>Jonah From Tonga</i> series.

The Tongan community in the US has lashed out at Jonah From Tonga series.

"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.

A petition calling for the show to be pulled before it goes to air next month is reportedly circulating the Tongan community in Salt Lake City. Tevita Kinikini, an academic adviser of Pacific Islander programs at the University of Utah, is outraged by show.

"For [Lilley] to create a character which disrespects women and girls and elders is a disappointment. It's not right, and it's not true," he told the local Deseret News. "Our values are of respect, of family, of charity. We're a God-fearing people."

Earlier this year, Australia's ABC was forced to defend the program after a backlash from 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.

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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.

In defence of the program, 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.

What do you think of Jonah From Tonga?

- Sydney Morning Herald

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