Maori TV criticised for Australian comedy about a Tongan teenager.

Māori Television is screening a comedy series ‘Jonah from Tonga’ that has provoked criticism from the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Alfred Ngaro who says that the Pacific stereotype isn’t funny. The debate about the show seems to be whether it is provocative satire or racist comedy. When I lived in Melbourne I well remember an Australian comedian who did a regular skit where he made himself look Greek. It was very funny. He called himself Con the fruiterer and his running gag was how he would spit into the plastic bag before he put fruit in it.


 …Jonah From Tonga is the sequel to mockumentary Summer Heights High. The show follows white comedian Chris Lilley as he plays 14-year-old Tongan boy Jonah Takalua. In the latter instalment, Jonah is sent to Tonga to get his life back on track after being expelled from school.

“It’s particularly disappointing to see this programme being picked up within weeks of The Human Right’s Commission’s ‘Give nothing to racism’ campaign,” said Ngaro.

Ngaro also questioned why Maori Television would screen Jonah From Tonga when there were already comedy shows made by Pacific Islanders available.

Maori Television head of content Mike Rehu said the show was “provocative”, but that was the nature of comedy.

“It often involves satire and at times it can be challenging to some audiences particularly when actors are portraying characters from another culture,” he said.

In the show, Lilley  dons a long-curly haired wig and dark brown makeup.

A statement from the Human Rights Commission called on Maori Television to consult the Tongan community before broadcasting the show because “while beloved by some, others find this character offensive”. Rehu said they had done so.

“We viewed episodes of the series and consulted with members of the Tongan community prior to making a decision to screen the comedy,” he said.

Will ‘Ilolahia, a founder of the Polynesian Panthers, was consulted as part of the process. Maori Television asked him to get feedback from the community, where concerns were raised.

Ilolahia told the station there was agreement among the Tongan community in Auckland that the mockumentry was “concerning”.

Maori Television said the Tongan Community surveyed also told Ilolahia they found the show entertaining.

Rehu said the programme fitted with Maori Television’s mandate to strengthen te reo because it had the potential to attract audiences to the channel. In this case, Rehu said they were targeting “a young male audience” with Jonah From Tonga.

In the US, where Jonah From Tonga started screening in 2014, a petition to pull the show from HBO received more than 10,000 signatures. The Tongan American petition organisers said the show had “astounding inherent generalised racism”.

“The show specifically targets and attempts to denigrate Tongan culture,” said organisers Sione Latu and Jarom Vaha’.

 – Stuff

A well known Kiwi comedian Jimi Jackson plays both Maori and Pakeha characters and he too has been criticised for wearing ” black face.”

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