Metro Weekly

Samsung pulls ad featuring Muslim mother and drag queen son in Singapore

LGBTQ advocates lament that Samsung caved to pressure from social conservatives to pull the LGBTQ-inclusive ad.

samsung, drag queen, singapore
Screenshot of the Samsung “Listen to Your Heart” commercial – Photo: Alfred Verhoeven, via YouTube.

Electronics giant Samsung yanked an advertisement from airing in Singapore and deleted it from online channels shortly after posting it over fears of a backlash from socially conservative viewers.

The company noted in its justification for pulling the ad that the commercial “may be perceived as insensitive and offensive to some members of our local community.”

The full ad, titled “Listen to Your Heart,” which is about five minutes long, features four individuals — all wearing Samsung headphones — hearing their loved ones read letters they wrote about them using a Samsung device. One of the individuals is a Muslim woman who hears her son read a letter thanking her for being accepting of the fact that he is a drag performer.

“You are just unbothered having people looking or judging you differently, having a son that does drag,” the son’s letter reads, thanking his mother for coming to see him in drag, saying the experience was “the most precious and proudest moment” of his life.

At the end of the commercial, all four listeners are reunited with their friends and loved ones, and the Muslim mother’s son, in full drag, enters the room and the two embrace.

According to BBC News, the ad sparked criticism from social conservatives, who accused Samsung of attempting to “push LGBT ideology.” Other critics in the conservative majority-Muslim society accused the ad of “disrupting the harmony within the Malay-Muslim community.”

The South Korean tech giant later scrubbed the video from all its public platforms, although individual users on social media, including TikTok and YouTube, saved versions of the ad so they could share it with their followers.

Samsung apologized for the ad in a statement, saying it is aware of the negative feedback it has received for airing the commercial and acknowledged that the ad “may be perceived as insensitive and offensive” to some.

“We acknowledge that we have fallen short in this instance, and have since removed the content from all public platforms,” the company added in its statement. “Samsung believes that innovation and growth are driven by diversity and inclusivity. We will certainly be more mindful and thorough in considering all perspectives and viewpoints for our future marketing campaigns.”

But the company also received criticism from others, including LGBTQ advocates, who criticized the decision to take down the ad. 

Alternative news website Wake Up Singapore, which shared a version of the ad on TikTok, said that “the Streisand effect is in full swing,” or, in other words, the company’s attempt to censor or erase traces of the ad generated more news than the ad’s initial release. As a result, an even larger audience knows about the ad and its content. 

The news website claimed that “it is clear that the majority of people did not share the same views harbored by the conservatives that led to the removal of the videos,” pointing to surges in its number of Instagram and Facebook followers after it posted the ad on TikTok and wrote about the controversy.

LGBTQ rights remain a thorny issue in Singapore, where same-sex activity between men is criminalized, and where the country’s Supreme Court has refused to overturn colonial-era laws outlawing male homosexuality. Those convicted under that law can receive up to two years in prison. However, LGBTQ advocates argue that the section of the law criminalizing homosexuality violates guarantees to equal protection and freedom from discrimination guaranteed by the nation’s constitution.

According to Business Insiderthe LGBTQ advocacy group Pink Dot Singapore issued a statement on its Instagram account, saying: “[I]t is still unclear what these people were offended by the fact that LGBTQ+ people exist in Singapore, or that we are deserving of loving relationships, or both.”

“LGBTQ+ people deserve love from our families, just like everyone else,” the statement reads. “We should also be able to express these loving relationships freely, regardless of those who want to shame us back into silence simply because they find us offensive. To those who are affected by these events, do not to lose heart. Your stories are more precious and important than ever. We urge LGBTQ+ Singaporeans and allies to extend your support to those who are facing challenges and opposition, such as the family in this advertisement.”

Hilmi, a manager of the Singaporean LGBTQ organization Oogachaga also told the BBC that he was disappointed that the ad was taken down. 

“It was the first of its kind video coming from a minority group on a relationship between mother and son [and] was so affirming,” he said. “As a queer Malay man, I am saddened to see a video that expresses unconditional love [being] taken down abruptly due to societal pressure from a group of people with conservative values.”

Watch the ad that was yanked from airing in Singapore below (via YouTube):

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