HBO News Blog

JONAH FROM TONGA Controversy

By Jef Dinsmore on Jul 23, 2014 to Chris Lilley

JonahFromTonga

Chris Lilley and his brand of humor, seen on HBO in SUMMER HEIGHTS HIGH, ANGRY BOYS and JA’MIE: PRIVATE SCHOOL GIRL, is getting the heat put to him and now carries the label of ‘racist.’

It has surfaced now because his latest show and character have raised the ire of some. JONAH FROM TONGA is the name of the show and the character coming our way beginning 08.08.14, providing irate groups don’t get it removed. Their peeve is the use of ‘brownface’ and denigrating a class of people, namely those that hail from Polynesian Tonga.

The mockumentray style show already aired in Australia and didn’t seem to gather any negative noise, but now that it reaches HBO in the U. S. the small Tongan community here has raised ire. 


Jonah_thumbAlmost everything cries out as racist they say. First, a white actor dons “brownface” makeup. Blackface portrayals have always been seen as bad taste and disrespectful, just because the shade is a lighter hue shouldn’t matter. There is also the fact that Jonah and his crew come off as stereotypical and derogatory of the race they portray.

KSL-TV in Utah had interviewed Tevita Kinikini, an academic adviser of Pacific Islander programs at the University of Utah, who stated –

“He’s painted a picture not only to look like one, but some stereotypes that are very offensive to our Tongan community, which does not represent the values and virtues that we have as Tongans. For him to create a character which disrespects women and girls and elders is a disappointment. It’s not right, and it’s not true. Our values are of respect, of family, of charity. We’re a God-fearing people.”

If you think that this is just the complaints from a few the number of supporters are growing to ban the show from being aired on HBO. Change.org has a petition detailing quite concisely what is wrong with the program and there is a Facebook page as well.  On the other side of the coin the Australian Broadcasting Company has made the statement that –

while the program “plays with stereotypes,” it’s “doing so to make an observation about the narrow-minded attitudes expressed by some of its characters, including Jonah’s own.”

Is Chris Lilley showing social commentary or depicting a gross misrepresentation of a culture? Does he even know what values and beliefs a common Tongan citizen upholds?  Is his “brownface” going over the line? What do you think? Since HBO is most likely NOT going to pull the show from the schedule I guess you can watch for yourself.










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