Dear Shrey Bhargava,

As far as I can tell from your post, there was nothing racist about your Ah Boys to Men audition and I’ll be kind enough to tell you and the 3000-odd people whom have shared your post why.

You were tasked to perform the role of a ‘full blown Indian’ and you have interpreted that as having to ‘portray a caricature of my race’ and being ‘reduced to my accent’.

The casters were not racist and the element of racism here is non-existent because that was the role that is being demanded of you here, whether it was that of a Singaporean Indian, North Indian, British Indian or Red Indian.

Suppose Samuel L. Jackson had tried to audition for the role of Jack Dawson in Titanic, a part that really went to Leonardo DiCaprio. It is obvious that he would have been turned down because he was black. Now, is this not a clear-cut case of racial discrimination? Surely no one (maybe except that crazy Sangeetha) would be absurd enough to claim that the directors or scriptwriters of Titanic were racist and had “reduced” Jackson down to his skin colour?

That is because the role of Jack Dawson (may he rest in peace at the bottom of the Atlantic) is one of a white man.

Why is it somehow more ‘wrong’ for you to portray the role of a stereotypical Indian from India, than for Wang Wei Liang to portray the stereotypical Chinese gangster, or for Maxi Lim to portray the role of a stereotypical bootlicking yes-man recruit, or for Tosh Zhang to portray a stereotypical authoritative army Sergeant?

If Wang Wei Liang were to drop out of the Lobang King role right now and I be in line to audition for the role, I’d be similarly asked by the casting director to play the role of a ‘full blown ah beng’.

That would mean me summoning out to the best of my abilities the most vicious, stereotypical characteristics of a Chinese ‘ah beng’. I’d have to speak in subpar broken English, exercise a liberal use of dialect profanities and demonstrate an aptitude for violence in the face of problems.

I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of the ones whom are throwing support behind you right now would not similarly rally and call to arms in the same righteous manner for me because I had to depict a caricature of the stereotypical Chinese hooligan.

Yet what is the difference? Certainly not all Chinese ‘ah bengs’ are characterised with the same rebellious, malingering characteristics like that of Wang Wei Liang’s character. I have done my National Service alongside some of them (in a god-forsaken rifleman unit no less), and most of them in fact are some of the most patriotic men I have ever seen.

Why is a racial stereotype anymore of a grievous injustice than the stereotype of an occupation, a cultural identity or any other form of stereotype? It is not.

If your objection is with being pigeonholed into a simplified, hackneyed image of a particular person, then you must similarly condemn all forms of stereotypes in film – not just stereotypes that are played along racial lines. And it is unnecessary for me to point out that stereotypes in the arts are ubiquitous in any and all forms.

In your follow-up post, you ramp up your distinct brand of illogic. You claim that it is wrong for the minority character to be of insignificance because this is a film that is a “SINGAPOREAN story”.

But this begs the question. What defines being ‘Singaporean’? Given that 40% of our population are comprised of foreigners and non-residents, isn’t it just as wrong that these Filipinos, Indonesians, Japanese and Koreans are utterly unrepresented in Ah Boys to Men? Is it fair to stick to the ‘Chinese, Malay, Indian’ categorisation that in the first place, is a categorisation formulated on arbitrary standards by our government?

Is there any reason why your standard of what is ‘Singaporean’ should take priority over mine, or over the casting director’s?

Yes, actors need jobs and it is certainly true that a racial minority would not enjoy the luxury of roles to pick from in comparison to one in the racial majority. But it is not clear WHY this is unfair, which is what you seem to me implying by “Minority actors do not have the privilege to pick and choose what to audition for”.

Of course majorities benefit. The same can be said for people whom are right-handed, whom are tall, whom are lucky enough to be born with our five senses. When you lament that “Minority actors do not have the privilege to pick and choose what to audition for”, you are no longer making an argument against racism, rather, you are making an argument against reality i.e., the racial proportion of our population.

I have observed this for some time among the young Singaporeans who are most active on social media. One of the most troubling cultural trends as of late is this idiotic penchant to leap at every slightest opportunity they get to call out racism, from the Toggle blackface issue and the Kiss92incident to a Smartlocal video from last year.

Of course racism exists in Singapore (or anywhere else in the world for that matter), but reducing any and all issues down to race is not very helpful. There are far more productive ways to tackle discrimination. And that begins with changing the institutional framework of our society, such as the freedom of our press and media, so racial minorities are empowered to best represent their own unique cultures. Nit-picking on little details in the media is not one of them.

Like the Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman said: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” I commend your well-intentioned attempt to speak out against what you have perceived is ‘racism’, but your analysis is incorrect and your methods are in fact entirely retrogressive.

P.S. It was quite interesting to see how that Vimeo video on your wall provided a most comical caricature of Arabs being equated with bombs/terrorism. It appears that it is just your own racial identity that is most fragile, and that the rest of us must tread precariously around. I wonder if it was only I who cringed so hard?