Japanese public broadcaster NHK apologized on Tuesday for a video that had been intended to explain the racial injustice protests in the United States, but depicted what critics called caricatures of Black people and a misrepresentation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The video was produced as part of a Sunday episode of NHK’s program “Kore De Wakatta! Sekai No Ima” (Now I Understand! The World Now), which explains international events to a Japanese audience. While the full episode was a “26-minute segment [which] reported that the protests in the U.S. were triggered by the death of George Floyd,” according to the English apology distributed by NHK, the offending clip, which made its way to the show’s Twitter account, was a cartoon which lacked this context and was blasted by viewers who said it featured racist stereotypes.
Since deleted from the show’s official account but preserved elsewhere on Twitter and YouTube, the cartoon shows protesters destroying property and stamping their feet while a Black man facing the camera yells that the poverty gap in the United States, as well as the fact that “the average white person has seven times more assets than us” has caused racial tension. The man also mentions the COVID-19 epidemic disproportionately affecting Black communities as the Japanese characters for “corona” appear in an ominous sky above him.
NHK’s apology explained that the clip was “aimed to show the hardships, such as economic disparity, that many African Americans in the U.S. suffer.”
“However, we have decided to take the clip offline after receiving criticism from viewers that it did not correctly express the realities of the problem,” the statement reads. “We regret lacking proper consideration in carrying the clip, and apologize to everyone who was offended.”
The clip attracted condemnation from a variety of voices on both Japanese and English Twitter, including Joseph M. Young, chargé d’affaires ad interim of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and Japanese professional tennis player Naomi Osaka, who has a Haitian father and has spoken out in support of Black Lives Matter in the past.
Harsh words were lobbed at the depiction of Black people in the clip, as well as the lack of mention of police brutality. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck as he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.”
Japanese scientist and visiting Tokyo Institute of Technology professor Kenichiro Mogi, who has previously critiqued the quality of NHK’s programming on his YouTube channel, called the clip a “really ill-thought-out animation” in a new video, arguing that was emblematic of a recent trend of NHK “dumbing down” the presentation of politics.
“When they are dealing with such serious matters as the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, which has deep and complicated historical backgrounds, you really shouldn’t misrepresent the issue,” Mogi said. “This particular program misrepresented the whole movement ... as if it was a confrontation between white people and Black people — the economically affluent and the economically underprivileged ... This inequality itself was something the makers of this NHK program didn’t understand.”
On the same weekend that NHK’s video was released, hundreds of protesters in Tokyo and Osaka took to the streets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to The Japan Times. The plight of ethnic minorities facing police brutality within Japan was also highlighted, with demonstrators speaking out against the treatment of a Kurdish man who told Reuters he was shoved to the ground by Tokyo police on May 22.