The issue of black face and blackfishing in the Philippines is a prevalent one. Earlier this year, “Maalala Mo Kaya” was criticized for allegedly putting Maymay Entrata in black face to play an Aeta character. “Bagani” also drew flak for making Enrique Gil appear darker in the show.
People have argued that Filipino actors sporting darker complexions in local media doesn’t have the same cultural impact as the racist Jim Crow parodies in Western countries because our ancestors are dark-skinned Aetas. However, since we live in a country with Filipinos who are mestiza, morena, or chinay (Chinese-Filipino) complexions, we have the privilege of showcasing different faces in the media. But what we usually see are personalities, often those with Eurocentric features, getting their skin darkened to play certain characters in shows, films, and ads.
Last night, Liza Soberano was called out online for an alleged blackfish look for a fast-food ad. In the photo she posted on Instagram, she’s seen with seemingly darkened skin and an afro. Netizens questioned her and she responded to one person who asked if she did black face. Her first comment read, “So what do you call the Wayans siblings when they had to act like white girls? I think you didn’t understand the context of black face. A lot of women have [afros] it doesn’t specifically belong to one ethnicity.”
She later deleted the comment and responded again: “This is not any form of black face. It’s a costume just like how any other person would dress up if they were portraying a famous character. In this case, it’s Mel B.”
A few hours later, Liza took to Twitter to apologize to anyone affected by the photo and her words. She also thanked those who educated her on cultural appropriation. “I understand that this is a sensitive topic and that I should’ve kept my mouth shut. For now on I will try to be more educated about matters like this to make sure I don’t make careless mistakes like this again in the future,” she said. “Cultural appropriation is an issue that is deep rooted in society which I am still educating myself on. I’ve read your comments and tweets and I honestly do understand where this backlash has come from.”
Meanwhile, the photo in question is still up on Liza’s Instagram account.
Getting to the bottom of cultural appropriation, black face, and blackfishing
Fans of Liza have come out to defend her, saying she didn’t do anything wrong and that she didn’t culturally appropriate a Black woman as she was just sporting curly hair and an animal print top like Mel B. from the Spice Girls. But the issue here is she was made to look like a Black woman—either through makeup or lighting—by the people behind the ad.
Cultural appropriation is the act of adopting elements of a certain culture and turning it into their own. This is prevalent among White people who imitate looks common among the Black and Muslim (e.g. hijabs) communities, and would get praised for it. But minorities are often discriminated against based on their appearance.
People can argue that Liza didn’t steal anyone’s culture, but she’s also being accused of blackfishing, or darkening her skin to look like a Black woman. Light-skinned Instagram models like Emma Hallberg and even celebrities like Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian have also been criticized for exploiting such features and profiting from their “blackness.” “Teen Vogue“noted that blackfishing is another form of appropriation as it devalues dark-skinned women and giving White women an advantage while utilizing their likeness.
Again, it’s clear that Liza’s not completely at fault for the faux pas. But what bothered netizens further was how she responded to the criticism where she implied that Mel B.’s likeness is a costume.
Sure, you can dress like other people when you’re trying to imitate them, but it shouldn’t be to the extent that you are excessively lightening or darkening your skin to pretend like you’re of a certain race. It’s not a form of appreciation to another race, especially when you are a half-White celebrity with Eurocentric features who’s made up to look like Mel B. in an ad and profiting from it.
For people who think there’s nothing wrong with this blackfishing incident, let us remind you that a minority’s skin tone is not a costume. Asians, Muslims, and Black people are fighting for equality, and yet there are still those who think it’s okay to copy their appearance for fun.
To impersonate is a common and acceptable act of entertainment. The ad showed how to be one of the Spice Girls and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
And no, us Filipinos don’t get a pass just because majority of us have tanned skin and are also victims of discrimination. Let’s be decent human beings and not be racist and/or discriminatory towards others. Also, continue educating others on why this incident shouldn’t be normal. If Liza is willing to listen and learn, then so should the fans and the team who thought of the ad’s concept.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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