Controversial doco ‘Jonah from Tonga TV series’ to screen on Māori Television

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Jonah From Tonga trailer

Maori TV is to show on Thursday a controversial documentary Jonah from Tonga which has been labelled as insult to the Tongan culture.

It is an Australian television series written by and starring comedian Chris Lilley.

In the mockumentary Jonah Takalua, a rebellious 14-year-old Australian boy of Tongan descent is portrayed in brownface.

It was strongly criticised after it was first screened in the US in 2014.

It followed with a petition which received more than 10,000 signatures to pull the show from HBO.

The Tongan American petition organisers said the show had “astounding inherent generalised racism”.

“In the series, Jonah, a violent and abusive 14 year old ‘Tongan’ boy, is played by the show’s writer, Chris Lilley, a 39-year-old Australian Caucasian, in brown face make-up and a curly haired wig. In addition to the astounding inherent generalised racism, the show specifically targets and attempts to denigrate Tongan culture — an ancient, deep, and complex culture based on faith, family, respect, and humility,” said organisers Sione Latu and Jarom Vaha’i.

Critics said Lilley was a racist for donning brownface to play a teenager from Tonga

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”, Maori Television head of content Mike Rehu said they had done so.

He said they have contacted Will Ilolahia from the Tongan community and they were told there was agreement among the Tongan community in Auckland that the mockumentry was “concerning”, Fairfax Media report.

Mr Rehu said Tongans can see the show’s sensitive but also realised it was satire.

“That’s the thing with satire, it does challenge people sometimes. It’s always tough when you’re dealing with satire and it’s a thin line, but we believe that it’s social commentary about new immigrants to a society not necessarily just Tongans, so there’s social commentary and insight there as well”, Radio New Zealand quoted him as saying.

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