Chris Lilley as Jonah.
Chris Lilley as Jonah.

Lilley’s defiant response to ‘Jonah’ critics

Chris Lilley has posted a telling link on Facebook amid fierce backlash surrounding his controversial Tongan schoolboy character.

In a defiant move, the comedian and writer shared a deleted scene from the Summer Heights High spin off Jonah From Tonga which shows his character sitting with a group of students writing the song Don't Be a Bully from the series.

It is the first Facebook post the comedian has made since May, and comes after former Tongan schoolboy Filipe Mahe, who was the subject of a 2004 ABC documentary series, claimed Lilley based the character Jonah on him.

In an interview published by The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, Mahe said the portrayal made him feel "angry and exploited".

Jonah From Tonga (DELETED SCENE) - Theresa Takalua SUBSRCRIBE to the Official Chris Lilley YouTube

Posted by Chris Lilley on Sunday, June 28, 2020

Netflix earlier this month removed four popular Lilley shows from its platform following uproar against the writer on Twitter as global debates about racism continue.

Lilley, who has portrayed several racially diverse characters in his shows, some using blackface and brownface, is yet to comment directly on his shows being dumped from the streaming service, or the recent claims by Mahe.

Over the weekend, Filipe Mahe, 33, came forward in an interview published in The Sydney Morning Herald claiming he had caught Lilley's attention after he was a subject of the 2004 doco Our Boys, filmed at Sydney's Canterbury Boys High.

After the documentary aired, Lilley visited the school to sit in classes and watch Tongan students perform, while he researched what would be his second ABC comedy series, 2007's Summer Heights High.

That series saw the debut of "Jonah", a disobedient student from Tonga played by Lilley, who wore make-up to darken his skin for the role.

 

Lilley played cheeky Tongan schoolboy Jonah in 2007’s Summer Heights High.
Lilley played cheeky Tongan schoolboy Jonah in 2007’s Summer Heights High.

Mahe saw many similarities between himself and Jonah: both cheeky students who loved dancing but had difficulties reading. Both were from single-parent households, and they even shared a naughty habit - asking angry female teachers if they were having their period.

Mahe told The Sydney Morning Herald he was "absolutely embarrassed, full of hate, angry and exploited" when he saw Lilley's character on screen for the first time, but wasn't sure how to speak out.

"I've always thought it was racism to Tongans but never spoke out," he said. "I would have been labelled a 'sook' or 'can't handle the banter' so I didn't say anything."

 

Filipe Mahe as he appeared in Our Boys.
Filipe Mahe as he appeared in Our Boys.

 

An English teacher at Canterbury Boys High also said he was "livid" when he saw Summer Heights High, saying that Pacific Islander students "were reduced to stereotypes and tropes that were hurtful and misleading".

In a separate piece published by The Sydney Morning Herald, Our Boys director Kerry Brewster voiced her anger at Lilley: "As a documentary filmmaker, I believe Lilley exploited my work and used its content to create a derisive brown-face caricature," she wrote.

Binge is Australia's new streaming service offering the best drama, entertainment and movies from the world's best creators. New to Binge? Get your two week free trial, sign up at binge.com.au

She claimed that the school's Islander students were "mortified" by Summer Heights High, and that she and her co-producer shared alarm "that a vulnerable child had been used to create a national figure of fun".

 

Documentary maker Kerry Brewster, student Filipe Mahe and teacher Kevin Bolten during the filming of Our Boys.
Documentary maker Kerry Brewster, student Filipe Mahe and teacher Kevin Bolten during the filming of Our Boys.

"Did Lilley ever wonder about the damage his Jonah caricature had on the boy who inspired it?" she asked.

The allegations come after Netflix earlier this month removed four popular Lilley shows from its platform.

The award-winning Australian comedian portrayed several racially diverse characters in his various series, with We Can Be Heroes, Summer Heights High, Angry Boys and Jonah From Tonga ripped from the streaming service.

In Angry Boys, which aired in 2011, Lilley used blackface to portray rapper S.Mouse.

His first show released in 2005, We Can Be Heroes, saw Lilley play Chinese physics student Ricky Wong, among a host of other characters vying for Australian of the Year.

It earned Lilley a Logie award for Best New Talent. He went on to win Most Popular Actor for Summer Heights High in 2008, which also won Most Outstanding Comedy Program.

His most recent show Lunatics , released last year, is still available on Netflix.

 

Originally published as Lilley's defiant response to 'Jonah' critics



'I thought it was a tumour’: Youngster’s shock diagnosis

premium_icon 'I thought it was a tumour’: Youngster’s shock diagnosis

A mum reveals how daughter's seriousness illness changed their lives

Warwick train tourism to soar with new initiative

premium_icon Warwick train tourism to soar with new initiative

‘Not just a steam train ride’: Rebranding pushes Rose City toward future as...

MORNING BRIEF: All the news you need to start your day

premium_icon MORNING BRIEF: All the news you need to start your day

The Daily News rounds up the region’s biggest stories, alongside weather...