Flak over 'transgender name'

Director Jack Neo says sorry

Director Jack Neo has apologised for the name given to a character played by transgender actress Kelly Kimberly Cheong, in his upcoming movie Ah Girls Go Army.

The character's name, "Amanda Man", drew flak from some netizens.

In an interview with news site AsiaOne on Wednesday, Neo said: "Kelly was cast specifically for this role for her fighting ability, not her gender identity.

"However, we understand that some people are not comfortable with the character's name, which had been interpreted as a reference to her trans identity."

He added: "The character's name will be changed. We apologise for any distress we have caused."

Cheong, who is trained in muay thai, had posted a now-deleted photo of herself in uniform on Instagram last week when filming started on the Chinese New Year movie, which is slated to premiere during Chinese New Year next year.

When eagle-eyed netizens spotted the name on her name tag, they voiced their concerns. Some commented that the name treats transgender identities as a joke and others brought up the point that it plays on the misconception that transgender women are men pretending to be women.

Cheong, 27, told AsiaOne: "I think the problem is that everybody thinks my character is transgender by default, just because I'm transgender. I think that itself is quite limiting, like, it's quite a narrow world view that I can play only a transgender character because I'm transgender. Isn't that kind of ironic?"

While she was at first unperturbed by the name, she later brought it up to Neo, 61, whose four Ah Boys To Men movies grossed more than $26.8 million in theatres.

The actress, who is a TikTok star with 340,000 followers and 2.6 million "likes", often posts clips on self-defence and martial arts tips.

In her latest post on Wednesday, she is seen killing time on set by doing vigorous clap push-ups, with the video getting more than 102,000 views in less than 24 hours.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2021, with the headline 'Director Jack Neo says sorry'. Subscribe