On Aug 5, local singer Nathan Hartono posted a series of photos from a recent shoot he did with local men’s magazine Men’s Folio. In the pics, Nathan was styled to look like music legends Sid Vicious, John Lennon and Freddie Mercury. And it was his portrayal of the latter that incurred the wrath of some netizens who felt that Nathan had darkened his skin to embody the late Queen frontman who is of Indian Parsi descent.
“Have you been living under a rock or something? Brownface is literally all we’ve been talking for the past 2-3 weeks man. Was it really necessary to darken your skin for this shoot just because Freddie Mercury had Indian roots?”” wrote one netizen, referencing the controversial E-Pay ad, where Dennis Chew's skin was darkened to portray an Indian man. All parties including Dennis have apologised for the incident.
Yesterday (Aug 8), Nathan addressed his controversy with an Instagram post, where he clarified that he did not darken his skin for the shoot. He wrote:
“I have avoided making a public statement about this because I did not feel the need to add more noise to a genuinely important conversation. It's an exciting time right now because crucial discussions about racism, privilege, and freedom of speech are finally being had. This specific case, I feel, has been based off of kneejerk assumptions and anger. While I get how anything can be misconstrued due to perception...compared to the actual things we should be talking about, this is just noise. I didn't wish to draw unnecessary attention to it.
THAT BEING SAID, enough people have been calling me out, and I understand the frustration that comes with believing somebody has made a mistake, yet seemingly tries to sweep it under the rug. That hasn't been the intention at all. I just didn't want to open up another forum for people on either sides of the argument to sling hatred at each other, especially because a lot of the commentors are quite young and I feel a certain responsibility in protecting their stances, whether or not I agree. Cuz we all know how toxic the internet can be. I'm putting this up now because tbh I'm just kinda tired of trying to resolve this quietly.
For the past few days I have been messaging all the commenters privately in hopes of bridging the gap of understanding. Unfortunately that hasn't really been an effective way to deal with this because everyone wants answers, I get it, and sorry the explanation didn't come sooner. Here is the DM I sent to everyone in its entirety, along with a few images that I hope will clear the air.
Furthermore (and this is the defensive side of me speaking 😅) I'd like to add that Freddie Mercury, despite his roots, was not a particularly dark skinned person. Objectively speaking, why would so much trouble be put into the accuracy of the hair, the mustache, the outfit - only for my skin to then be supposedly "artificially darkened" a trait that Freddie himself did not possess? Spoiler alert - it's because that’s literally the color of my skin.
This isn't brownface. My face is just brown. Be nice to one another, love and kindness over anything else.”