The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is disturbed by HBO’s decision to air a new Australian “mockumentary” comedy series, “Jonah from Tonga.” In the series, a white Australian actor, Chris Lilley, performs in brown makeup and a wig to depict Jonah, a young Tongan teen living in Australia. Jonah and his Tongan peers are portrayed as disrespectful, aggressive, and delinquent. Numerous scenes in the series mock or misrepresent Tongan culture and customs.
Although styled as a comedy, there is nothing clever or funny about the harmful and offensive stereotypes perpetuated by “Jonah from Tonga.” Too often, bigotry and racism are employed in the pursuit of humor; when done correctly, satire can be a powerful weapon for revealing and skewering the irrationality and absurdity of the racist ideas. Yet the juvenile and crude characterizations in “Jonah from Tonga” only reveal Lilley’s deep ignorance and disrespect for the Tongan people.
Whether the content of this series is acceptable elsewhere, it is an affront to the sensibilities of American audiences who understand that honoring diversity implies a healthy respect for the dignity of all cultures. The JACL is disturbed that HBO would condone such a racist and offensive show and urges HBO to pull “Jonah from Tonga” from its lineup.