Thailand celebrity gets prize and some flak for wearing 'blackface' costume at hip-hop party

Thai comedian Pajaree Na Nakorn won a prize for her costume at a hip-hop themed costume party.
Thai comedian Pajaree Na Nakorn won a prize for her costume at a hip-hop themed costume party. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@PAYOON3

BANGKOK (AFP) - A Thai celebrity has drawn prize money - but little controversy - for wearing "blackface" at a hip-hop themed costume party, a move criticised by some as the latest act of "casual racism" in a kingdom obsessed with skin colour.

Comedian Pajaree Na Nakorn, known as "Poodle", posted photos of herself dressed as a hip-hop artist and wearing dark face paint at a weekend party organised by Channel 3, one of Thailand's top broadcasters.

One of the images, published on Instagram, shows her holding up the 5,000 baht (S$195) prize she was awarded for sporting the "best costume" at the celebrity bash.

Another showed the comedian posing next to a darker-skinned Thai with the caption: "Thank you for painting yourself black like me. What? You didn't? You're 'naturally black'? Sorry!"

The images appeared popular with the comedian's local fans, drawing thousands of "likes" and little criticism.

Though some criticised the move, especially foreigners.

"The so-called Thai elite are a bunch of racists," wrote Facebook user Glen Jones above a link to the pictures.

The TV channel's public relations chief brushed off accusations that the costume was racially offensive.

"No, it had nothing to do with racism," Mr Borisuth Puranasamdiddhi told AFP on Tuesday.

"It was our annual fancy party for our stars. This year it was a hip-hop concept," he said, adding that Poodle was "outstanding".

Coconuts Bangkok, a news website popular with foreigners and English-speaking Thais, wrote Thailand is "mostly clueless when it comes to the political incorrectness of blackface from an international perspective".

"In Thai culture, Poodle's actions are seen as a simple joke. None of the local newspapers noticed or pointed out Poodle's blatantly racist remark," the website added.

Whitening creams and pills are wildly popular in Thailand, where pale skin is upheld as the standard of beauty among many Thais who comment freely on the complexion of others.

But some companies have faced a backlash in recent years for going too far.

In January, a torrent of criticism pushed a Thai cosmetic company to pull an advert for skin lightening pills sold with the tagline "white makes you a winner".

The advert featured famous Thai actress Cris Horwang with a blacked up face.

In 2013, public criticism similarly led the US firm Dunkin' Donuts to pull an advertisement in Thailand that featured a woman in blackface makeup promoting a new charcoal-flavoured doughnut.

Pajaree Na Nakorn's instagram can be seen at: https://www.instagram.com/payoon3/