TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese public broadcaster NHK apologised on Tuesday and deleted from its Twitter account an animated video aimed at explaining the background behind U.S. protests for police reform, but which instead sparked online outrage for its depiction of African Americans.
The 1:21 minute clip, which NHK had also broadcast on its Sunday evening programme “Sekai no Ima” (“The World Now”), featured a tough-talking black narrator citing the wealth disparity between black and white Americans and the economic impact from the coronavirus.
But it made no mention of police brutality or the death of George Floyd, a black man who died on May 25 after being pinned by the neck for nine minutes by a white officer’s knee, which sparked the latest protests.
In the clip, the narrator’s bodybuilder-like muscles were bursting out of a white tank top, while other African-American characters included a man with an afro and mutton chop sideburns, and a muscular man in a sleeveless purple suit, fedora-style hat and sandals strumming a guitar.
“While we understand @NHK’s intent to address complex racial issues in the United States, it’s unfortunate that more thought and care didn’t go into this video,” the interim head of the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, Joseph M. Young, said on Twitter. “The caricatures used are offensive and insensitive.”
NHK said it had decided to take down the tweet after receiving a lot of criticism and that it had posted the video with a “lack of consideration”.
“We apologise to those who were made to feel uncomfortable,” the broadcaster said on Twitter.
The video had been viewed more than one million times as of midday Tuesday on the programme’s @nhk_sekaima Twitter account.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka retweeted the video with a GIF expressing bewilderment.
“This is awful. I’m embarrassed to say I’m Japanese when I see this,” tweeted another user, @emiliharatatani. “Do you know what is happening in America now?!”
@CheetosOnToast called it “racist” and “discriminatory”.
Baye McNeil, a Japan-based African-American author and activist, said the clip showed the need for local broadcasters to educate themselves.
“Any child who looks at that video will walk away from it feeling, ‘Yeah, maybe these people have been treated unfairly ... but they’re big and awful and scary!’” he told Reuters before the video was removed. “How can they (NHK) think people are going to be sympathetic to the people being oppressed after watching that video?”
Reporting by Chris Gallagher and Chang-Ran Kim; Writing by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Lincoln Feast.