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Watsons defends blackface Raya commercial, says it's based on legend

Another apology has been released, this time by Watsons Malaysia's general manager Caryn Loh

By Andrea Tim | Published: 9 Jun 2017

Watsons blackface
Photo: Watsons Malaysia

[Updated 9 June 2017] #MaafkanWatsons (forgive Watsons) heads Watsons' latest apology, which was written by Caryn Loh, general manager and country head of Watsons Malaysia.

We deeply and sincerely apologise for our recent Legenda Cun Raya video which was released on social media in Malaysia. The 15 minute video was inspired by the Malay legend Dayang Senandong made popular in the 1965 movie Dayang Senandong. It was our intention to convey concepts of inner and outer beauty, unfortunately the video instead offended many.

Regretfully, we acknowledge that the Legenda Cun Raya video is not in-line with the values that we hold dearly in Malaysia. Watsons Malaysia takes responsibility for the video and its content and is truly sorry that some elements have offended the general public.

Watsons Malaysia following the feedback from the general public, immediately removed the video and we appreciate your honest feedback especially leading into an important celebration like Hari Raya.

Moving forward we will continue to listen to the general public and our loyal customers. On behalf of Watsons Malaysia we humbly seek your forgiveness and deeply regret any harm that we have caused.

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[Updated 8 June 2017] Watsons Malaysia has taken down its Raya short film, which received tremendous backlash for the use of blackface. The health and beauty retailer defended the storyline, saying in a statement on Facebook that it was based on the legend of Dayang Senandong, a woman who was born with black skin, and that its film aimed to highlight the importance of inner beauty.

Watsons Malaysia is aware of the post that has been made viral on social media.

A post on 7th June 2017 regarding a video by Watsons talks about the legend of Dayang Senandong. The Legend of Dayang Senandong is 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.

We stand firm on the belief that unity and fairness plays [sic] an important role, and we respect people from all nationalities. The video was shot to highlight the Legend and its moral values of inner beauty and that true love exists. We are sorry that some of our fans feel offended by the video which was not our intention. We take feedback from our fans seriously.

Your continued support will be greatly appreciated and any feedbacks [sic] from you will help in improving our services.

Maaf Zahir dan Batin.

Thank you.

First of all, no. Legenda Cun Raya Watsons does not tell the story of a woman who was cursed with black skin. Instead, the girl in the short film painted her face black to test the rich bachelor.

Secondly, the legend is really a 1965 Malaysian film called Filem Dayang Senandong. A princess from Ratnaputra was cursed by another with black skin, who had been wrongly accused and put to death by the king. It has a happy ending, but the film does not go without portraying the princess as ugly.

And finally, it is 2017. Heaven forbid that we were to only adapt a story about inner beauty without actually reinforcing archaic views about body image, even if those were portrayed in a popular film or legend. It's 2017. We should know better.

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Watsons Malaysia is under fire for using blackface in its Raya short film, Legenda Cun Raya. TL;DW, the film is about a rich bachelor named Al-Kazam (Kamal Adli) who holds a talent audition in hopes of meeting the mysterious girl with the beautiful voice who keeps appearing in his dreams.

"There's no tale more EPIC than Legenda Cun Raya Watsons! The legend starts when the legendary princesses and beauties battle to tackle Saudagar Kaya Al-Kazam's heart. Starring Malaysia's biggest stars including Uqasha Senrose, Kamal Adli, Raja Ilya, Ruhainies, Sasha Saidin, Amber Chia, Thanuja, Alvin Chong and more. Look Cun, Feel Great!"

Except looking cun (good) and feeling great doesn't include the dark-skinned. Beautiful contestants come from far and near to sing and dance their way to Al-Kazam's heart. One girl (Nur Ruhainies), whose angelic voice finally gets his attention, reveals her black face to the horror of those present – to the horror of Malaysians with enough sense to know that this is offensive.

"This is straight up blackface, man!" one Facebook user commented. "What hurts me even more is that some celebrities support this without even realising. We really need to be more aware lah guys."

Another mentioned Kendall Jenner's controversial Pepsi ad: "Did you watch that Kendall Pepsi ad and just think 'hey… let's create our own ad that'll piss off half the nation, because that seemed to trend on social media?"

But Watsons wanted to shed light on another moral value. The mysterious girl is announced the winner of the contest and reveals her fair complexion (Surprise! She's beautiful!), explaining that it was all a test of Al-Kazam's sincerity.

Oh, don't worry. The girl isn't actually black.

"In fact, I am flawless!" she announces, sheepishly.

Al-Kazam proposes immediately, and she accepts. And they lived happily ever after. Welcome to the 21st century.

ELLE has reached out to Watsons Malaysia for comment. Watch this space for updates.

Related: Pepsi removes controversial 'tone-deaf' ad


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