TOKYO — The U.S. Embassy criticized Japan's public broadcaster on Tuesday for publishing an "offensive and insensitive" animated cartoon about the protests against police brutality that have convulsed the United States.
The broadcaster said it initially aired the animation in a weekly current affairs show that also discussed Floyd’s death and anger at the Trump administration. The NHK added that it was an attempt to “explain the severe condition black people are under so viewers can understand easily.”
But when the NHK show tweeted the clip, it provoked outrage on social media in Japan.
“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,” tweeted Joseph M. Young, the U.S. Embassy’s interim chargé d’affaires. “The caricatures used are offensive and insensitive.”
Young is the most senior diplomat at the embassy after the departure of Ambassador Bill Hagerty last year.
Author and historian Masahiro Yamazaki called the NHK video “extremely ugly.”
“It has not at all covered the nature of the issue, of long repeated, unjustified violence and murders of black citizens by white police officers,” he tweeted. “It has trivialized the issue as if violent black people rioted amid economic stress and the coronavirus-driven resentment. It is stunning that it completely lacks the viewpoint of discrimination.”
Mirei Takahashi, an editor and researcher into artificial intelligence and entertainment, said the video seemed like an “insult” to the people across the United States who have taken to the streets to condemn racial injustice.
“The stereotyped depiction of black people is also terrible, giving the impression this is not a protest for African American human rights, but that they are rioting for money,” she tweeted. “It promotes discrimination.”
Hundreds of people have turned out in Japan to support the Black Lives Matter protests over the past two weekends, as well as to voice anger at alleged discrimination by Japanese police against foreigners. Sociologists say racism and discrimination remain prevalent within Japanese society, with black people especially targeted.
The NHK said it withdrew the video after receiving “a lot of criticism and opinions” about it.
“We apologize for the lack of consideration in posting, and to those we have offended,” the NHK said in a statement. “At NHK, we will respect human rights and pay utmost attention at every phase of reporting and production.”
The Japanese government is trying to attract immigrants to fill a hole in the labor market caused by the country’s rapidly aging population, but many immigrants complain about exploitation and discrimination, including exclusion from renting properties and harassment by police.
Tennis star Naomi Osaka came under fire in Japan this week after speaking out on Twitter about racial injustice and encouraging people to join a Black Lives Matter march.
In response to the protests about Japanese policing, right-wing nationalists argued that foreigners have no right to protest within Japan and should be thrown out of the country.
Correction: The translation of the NHK apology has been updated to more closely reflect the original Japanese statement.