“Legenda Cun Raya”, a 2017 commercial by pharmacy chain Watsons in Malaysia featured a 15-minute short film with an all-star cast. It was taken from the folktale of “Dayang Senandung”, who was born cursed with black skin and coincided with Hari Raya, a Muslim holiday following Ramadan.
In the video a merchant falls in love with a mysterious woman’s beautiful singing voice which haunts his dreams. When beautiful princesses from around the world audition to impress him, the merchant is only smitten by the voice of one girl whose face is covered.
Having asked her to uncover her face, though, he is eventually taken aback by her dark skin. In the climax, she washes off the dark make-up, and—now she suddenly has a flawless, fair complexion—marries the merchant.
Watsons customer director Danny Hoh said on its release: "This year we offer something different and unique that is relevant for all. This epic movie was carefully scripted to inject Watsons brand identity to include humour, wit and also over the top acting and characters.”
The advertisement shocked Malaysians, however, with many criticising the use of blackface and the racially charged message of the film.
Watsons took down the video then issued an apology, saying: "We are sorry that some of our fans feel offended by the video which was not our intention.”
The retailer added: “We stand firm on the belief that unity and fairness plays an important role, and we respect people from all nationalities. The video was shot to highlight… moral values of inner beauty and that true love exists.”