Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Drake's Impersonation Of Manny Pacquiao

Is It Offensive?

There's a video that has been making the rounds that shows the singer, Drake, impersonating Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao. The skit shows Drake - as Pacquiao - in the recording studio talking about his love of music amongst other things and, well, just watch......

What do you think? I thought the skit was hilarious and not in the least offensive or racist, but the video has apparently caused offense amongst some Filipinos. The Facebook site of the Philippine newspaper, Inquirer, has asked readers if they consider the skit to be racist, to which most have answered "no". This link shows some reactions to the skit - mostly positive, but a few not so much. Another Filipino blogger has written a post explaining why he thinks the skit was racist - here - calling it a type of blackface.

Whilst I understand the sentiment of those who are uncomfortable with the skit or have found it racist or offensive I don't agree with them. Where I agree with those who are offended is that we have a responsibility to examine these kinds of representations of Asians in the media because the vast majority of the time those representations are overwhelmingly demeaning and negative. In this case, however, I think that we have to look at the context and the big picture in order to be able to truly assess the intent of the skit.

There is a major difference between the Drake skit and the typical "comedy/satire" that mock and demean Asians. We have to remember that the usual demeaning representation of Asian people de-individuates us, meaning that this kind of racism relies not so much on observation of particular individuals, but rather draws from the library of stereotypical and racist conceptions of Asians - some of which are decades old - that are based more on the product of the mainstream racist imagination than on any real interaction with Asian people. After all, you cannot know Asian people and be their friend if you interact with them the in the way modeled by the media. So, all the "ching-chong" representations of Asians are not based on observations of individuals, but are mostly drawn from mainstream-created unrealistic stereotypes the purpose of which is to demean and dehumanize Asian people.

Drake's impersonation of Manny Pacquiao, by contrast, does the exact opposite to the above. Firstly, it is an impersonation based on the observed behaviour, mannerisms, and speech of a real person and not merely a regurgitation of tired stereotypes. Manny's love for singing is parodied, and his "renaissance-boxer-man" approach to life is cleverly satirized, and it is all delivered using an accurately executed Filipino accent and a well-observed Pacquiao humility. In other words, whoever wrote the piece actually bothered to observe aspects of Pacquiao's character and demeanour and was thus able to produce a clever personalized parody of a real, individual, Asian person instead of the typical dehumanizing allusions to slant eyes, and gibberish language imitation.

That to me is the crux of why the piece was not racist; instead of saying the usual "look! An Asian! Ching-Chong!", the piece was individualizing an Asian man through parody, instead of de-individuating and dehumanizing him. Whether this was by design or if it was merely a happy accident I do not know but I think that, in a sense, the skit  is one of the most normalized depictions of an Asian man that I have ever seen, simply because it is based on the actual observation of a real, individual Asian man.

H/T FlipFob


  1. Admittedly I don't know much about Drake so I don't know if he's ever made generalizing or negative comments about Filipinos or Manny in the past, but I really don't see any mean spiritedness in the skit. That doesn't mean that I think everyone else has to find humor in it, and I can see how some folks might be offended - but racist?

    Russell Peters pokes fun at the Filipino accent in his stand up, (even using 'Bumbay' if I recall correctly) does that make him racist? At the same time I wouldn't call Mikey Bustos self loathing because he made a Filipino Accent Tutorial. I just have a hard time agreeing that Drake's parody of Manny deserves to be called racist because he plays on the accent. He's doing a parody of Manny (a boxer) in front of an ESPN audience.

    If there's any character in the skit that's based on a stereotype it's Bernie Champion, the slick record producer.

    1. Hey Gene!

      Welcome! Yeah, the racist claims are bewildering - like I said in the post, Drakes impersonation was based on observation of an individual, and not some lazy series of generalized snippets drawing from racist stereotypes.

      I too don't know much about Drake but I think that he must have been around pinoys a lot at some point - he has the accent down.

      There is an interesting aspect of all this that I did not bring up in the post and that is that - as far as I know, and I could be wrong - the Filipino accent or manner of speaking has not been used as a means of denigration in the same way that NE Asian languages have been mocked and used to denigrate Asian people. For example, if some celeb or other does a "ching-chong" type thing, then it is implicitly racial mockery. At the same time, if someone does a Filipino accent I would not necessarily think that their intent was to be racist. What do you think?

  2. I instantly got a negative reaction, but I think I've been conditioned to react negatively anytime an Asian accent is mocked.

    When Jim Carrey mocked Vanilla Ice on "In Living Color", which was LMFAO!!!, it didn't feel racist.

    The only aspect that can be construed as racist is that it's a non-Asian mocking an Asian.

    1. Yun

      "I think I've been conditioned to react negatively anytime an Asian accent is mocked"

      That might be because most of the time when non-Asians do an "Asian" accent it actually is to mock it. Drake was not doing the same thing that let's say, Shaq-ass did when he mocked Yao Ming with the "ching-chong" bullshit - Shaq de-individuated (and dehumanized) Yao, Drake was parodying a specific individual based on known aspects of that individual's life and actions.

  3. Yun, I think your last point is spot on. Most of the comments that I've seen made me wonder if alot of the negative feedback may be a case of "we can make fun of ourselves but no one else can".

    Ben, to be totally honest, I can't think of a time that I've personally seen the Filipino accent used as a negative characterization of the entire population. I don't know if it's ultimately a case of "all Asians are alike" and the "ching chong" generalization ends up being a one size fits all thing for the person doing the mocking? (I might be over analyzing here.)

    The largest group of people that mock the Filipino accent in my experience have been Filipinos themselves, from our elders using the accent in cheesy jokes, to the kids poking fun of how their parents speak.

    I think the fact that Drake does such a good job of mimicking Pacquiao's mannerisms is important here. If he were to do the entire skit using a really bad characterization, then I think we'd all be lining up calling foul. When I first watched the video, I really didn't think "he's making fun of Filipinos". I thought "man he does a real good Pacquiao".

    1. Gene

      Agree 100% with the last paragraph especially - Drake was mocking/parodying the man not the race.

      I've never seen the Filipino accent being used to demean Filipinos either - it just wouldn't work because as you say Filipinos laugh at their own accent all the time. Now, it could be that we are not sensitive about it because it has never been used in an ugly way to mock us in the same way that NE Asian accents and ways of speech have. Hard to know which came first.