Entertainment Arts ‘Singapore Grip’ series draws flack for portrayal of colonialism

‘Singapore Grip’ series draws flack for portrayal of colonialism

“The television adaptation could have taken a more enlightened perspective in keeping with the progress that has happened in the half century since the novel’s publication," said advocacy group BEATS




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Singapore—British television channel ITV is scheduled to air a dramatization of ‘The Singapore Grip’ a 1978 satire by J. G. Farrell considered to be a classic in Singapore literature.

However, the six-part series, set in 1941, has drawn criticism from some quarters for how it portrayed Singapore’s colonial past.

The British East and Southeast Asian non-profit media advocacy group BEATS has called ‘Singapore Grip’ out due to “harmful (non)representation,” and said that the series is “deeply upsetting” in a statement quoted in Variety.

The series will air on ITV on September 13, but was already shown in Australia last July.

ITV featured a preview of the series on September 2 via its Twitter account, calling the series, “An epic new drama following the lives of a British family during the Japanese invasion of Singapore.”

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According to BEATS, “In a landscape where our creative industries are decimated, the Black Lives Matter movement has placed this country’s problematic view of its own colonial legacy firmly under the microscope.

In this context, an expensively mounted TV adaptation of J.G. Farrell’s satirical novel, with colonial Singapore as its exotic backdrop, is a kick in the teeth to the U.K.’s East and Southeast Asian community. This is especially concerning at a time when anti-East and Southeast Asian hate crime has dramatically increased during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The group added, “The television adaptation could have taken a more enlightened perspective in keeping with the progress that has happened in the half century since the novel’s publication.

Instead, even the cynical desperation and callous decadence of Farrell’s Caucasian characters is bled out in favour of jauntily-forced, comedic indulgence, presenting this traumatic period of Singapore’s history as little more than breezy and inconsequential.”

Screenwriter Christopher Hampton responded to the criticism, sharing a statement to Variety that said “‘The Singapore Grip’ is an attack on colonialism.”

It is part of the author’s trilogy of books “which constitute perhaps the most celebrated attack on colonialism by a British novelist in the 20th century,” Mr Hampton added.

Moreover, he pointed out that “the most sympathetic and resourceful of the central characters is a Chinese woman.”

But BEATS has said, “The other Asian characters are merely heavily accented ciphers, silent chauffeurs, exotic dancers, giggly prostitutes, monosyllabic grunts and half-naked Yogis. Asian womanhood is represented as lurid temptation and subservient availability. Studies have shown that sexualized, submissive stereotyping of East/Southeast Asian women leads to staggeringly high rates of physical and sexual violence against them.

That a public service broadcaster should so casually engage in this type of harmful (non) representation, with no care for its real world consequences, is deeply upsetting.”

Many others are unhappy with the series.

Simu Liu, the lead actor in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” also made his feelings clear via Twitter.


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