In Jonah from Tonga (a 6 part ‘mockumentary’ tv series to be shown on HBO) the main character, Jonah, is a criminal teenage Australian boy of Tongan roots. There are several areas of serious concern with this series.
First, Jonah is played by a Caucasian, 39-year-old Australian in brown face make-up and a curly haired wig. Brownface in 2014, really?
Second, Jonah is clearly identified as ‘Tongan’. The name of the show is Jonah from Tonga. The series starts in ‘Tonga’. The logo is a caricature of of a ‘Tiki’ carving. Etc. We get it. You want us to think it’s about a Tongan. And for Americans, most of whom have little previous knowledge about Tonga, this series will shape the way they think about the nation, its culture, and its people. So what will they learn?
1. All the teenage ‘Tongan’ boys shown in the series are low achievers, gang members, or in jail. The school’s high achievers are Caucasians.
2. Much of the ‘comedy’ is derived from this blackface/brownfaced ‘Tongan’ character’s acts of violence, sexual aggression, ignorance and profanity. This is problematic not only because of the show’s astounding inherent racism, but because much of his behavior is deeply counter to Tongan culture. He swears at his sister and his father. He is extremely disrespectful to teachers. He makes sexual edvances on his cousin. He is sexually suggestive to his Aunt and a Nun. And much, much more. All this is deeply offensive in Tongan culture. Tonga is a devoutly religious country, very family-oriented, with one of the highest PhD rates per capital. None of this is reflected in Jonah from Tonga.
3. In another nod to the racism of minstrel shows, Jonah’s only saving talent is presented as dancing, and his brother’s as singing.
4. The excuse given for all this is ‘lighten up, it’s only comedy’. First, even reviewers who liked it thought it was not that funny. A typicalreview is: “the documentary truth of the situation and the people seems more important than the laughs here” (Julia Raeside, The Guardian). Which captures the problem — many viewers will assume there is a ‘documentary truth’ in the series that teaches them something about Tonga. And it will be equally unfunny when a Tongan boy, already doing his best to fit in an American high school, gets taunted with a variation of ‘Hey Jonah - show us your dXXk tattoo!’
Tonga is a loyal friend of the US. It has troops in Afganistan, large, devout communities in Salt Lake City, academics in US higher education, and players in major US sports teams. This show drives a wedge in that relationship. And for what? The only saving grace is that Jonah from Tonga was a ratings disaster in Australia and the UK.
Young Tongans have been taking to Change.org, Facebook and Twitter (#MyNameIsNOTJonah) to try to get the message out that they are not like Jonah. They are listing academic achievements, work in the community, the fact that they have no criminal record. They shouldn’t have to. Please HBO, Mr. Lilley, Ms. Brunt and Ms. Waters, please don’t slander a whole nation and sacrifice the future of young Tongans for the sake of this series. It WILL affect them.
We, the undersigned, ask you to please do the right thing and pullJonah from Tonga from the schedule. It won’t cost you that much but running it will cost Tonga, and Tongans a lot, for years to come.
White teens who kill receive kind words and humanizing obituary-esque headlines surrounding their crimes, whereas black teens who are killed are covertly demonized or belittled and no worth is attached to the stories covering their death.
This is the world we live in.
In “Illegal” I wanted to take that same sort of story - a girl from Mexico who has an abusive father and no future worth speaking of makes a split second decision with her mother to leave it behind in favor of a chance to do or be something better. But what I also wanted to do was bring in the current landscape of modern technology, government surveillance, and the increasingly ridiculous state of immigration reform in the US.
The thing that always bothers me about sci-fi stories is that we come in so late in the story. We only really see and learn about the government corruption and abuse when it threatens the life of our well to do young white and male protagonist. That’s not the beginning. First they isolate the outsiders: the poor, the sick, the powerless, the minorities. If the government is turning against the young strong white men, then a lot has already gone down. Where are the stories of the sick who were experimented on? Where are the stories of the minorities whose cries of racism were ignored? Where are the stories of the ones who aren’t missed when the government turns on them, because the government convinced you that their very presence was illegal?
What resulted was “Illegal”, a story about Gianna Delrey - a young woman who is living outside the system and in constant danger of being arrested and detained just for daring to exist in America. But the America she knows is one where the rich live high above the ground in rooftop villas and build themselves neighborhoods they never have to leave hundreds of feet in the air. One where the poor and undocumented are forced to live off the scraps and face constant harassment from the authorities.
But in a world where every move of every citizen is tracked - from their location to their purchases to who they meet - being invisible can present an interesting opportunity in the right hands. And when one of her upper class employers decides to turn on her, Gianna finds herself on the run and falling in with a group that deals in black market identities.
I wanted to see the insane chases through the skyscrapers the make up the city. I wanted to add elements of parkour and sci-fi action. In a world that’s packed full of people stacked into massive buildings, it’s possible to have a foot chase hundreds of feet in the air. Gianna will be jumping out of apartment skyscrapers and onto rooftop gardens with no net and no chance of rescue. Gianna and her new friends will be using the skyscrapers under which they’ve been buried as their paths weapons and escape routes.
When Jeremy pitched to me Illegal I was immediately grabbed by the concept, and the fact that GIanna was the female lead. For a while I had wanted to draw a comic with a woman main character, and I was glad that I was able to collaborate with Jeremy on the project. The script was very in depth and explored a lot of politics that we deal with today –racism, sexism, abuse, and the immigrant system. It was a very powerful piece that I think comic books fans today would thoroughly enjoy. Illegal is smart, daring, and different. It stood out to me, and I I am confident others will feel the same.
We’ve reached $2,500! Thanks so much! And if you haven’t had a chance to donate or share, please jump on!
Guys!!! Go and support Illegal! Its going to be an amazing comic!!!!
Almost to the halfway point! This is exciting! :)
As of this morning we still haven’t made it halfway. Won’t you give us a hand?
This looks project looks like it has an extremely fascinating and poignant story to tell. All the best Sci-Fi possesses at it’s heart, some kernel of social truth. I’m very excited to contribute to this.
Well, he was sorta asking for it, dressing in such flammable clothing.
if he didnt want to get set on fire, he should have stayed indoors
He was probably drinking that night, alcohol makes you susceptible to fire.
If it’s a legitimate inferno, the male body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
God I love you, Internet.
Why didn’t he stop, drop, and roll? He should have stopped, dropped, and rolled. He must have secretly wanted it.
If you read the article, eyewitnesses said the man had purchased a lighter earlier that same day. Dude probably set himself on fire and lied about it. Typical.
He should have relaxed and enjoyed it. After all it was just a bit of kindling cuddling
We need to start educating people about wearing fire-safe clothing and carrying extinguishers with them at all times. For their own safety.
Everytime i see this, the comments keep getting better