Italian TV host apologises after racist segment mocking Asian people

Chelsea Ritschel
·3-min read
 (Instagram / @therealhunzigram / @diet_prada)
(Instagram / @therealhunzigram / @diet_prada)

An Italian TV host has apologised after she faced criticism and accusations of racism for mocking and imitating Asians while on-air.

On Monday, during an episode of the Italian satirical show Striscia la Notizia, Swiss-Italian host Michelle Hunziker and her co-host Gerry Scotti were discussing the Italian national broadcasting company RAI, which is headquartered in Beijing.

During the segment, the show’s host began mocking Asian accents and making offensive gestures mimicking Asians, with both Hunziker and Scotti, a former member of the Italian Parliament, also referring to RAI as “LAI,” as noted by Instagram account Diet Prada, which called out the behaviour on Instagram.

“@GerryScotti, a former member of the Italian Parliament, and @TheRealHunzigram, a Swiss-Italian actress and model, began by mocking Chinese people’s pronunciation of the letter R, calling the network ‘LAI’ instead of ‘RAI,’ the watchdog account captioned clips from the segment on Instagram. “The hosts then proceeded to pull the corners of their eyes up in the manner of common racist gestures meant to caricaturize Asian features. At one point, with eyes pinched up, Hunziker spoke in gibberish.”

The hosts’ behaviour sparked instant backlash, with many accusing the presenters of racism and calling on them to apologise.

On Wednesday, Hunziker addressed the controversy with an Instagram video, in which she said that she taught her daughters to apologise to one another even when they hurt the other accidentally, so that it is “only fair that I do that myself”.

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“I’m truly sorry and I apologise if I hurt anyone and I realise we’re in a time where people are sensitive about their rights and I have been so naive not to take that into consideration,” Hunziker continued. “Thank god times are changing a lot and we’re adapting a new inclusive world and I definitely want to be part of it.”

Hunziker then reiterated her apology to all who she “offended,” before adding that she is the “furthest thing from a racist”.

“You know, stereotypes have this thing where they creep into your daily life without you even noticing their presence or the fact that they may be painful for somebody else,” she said. “We got used to them, we normalised them, and now we are learning to change.”

In the video, Hunziker also said that she “appreciates the opportunity to learn,” before concluding: “Sorry again, and please, don’t hate, we all make mistakes.”

In the caption of the video, which the host wrote in English and Italian, she said she was “deeply sorry” and thanked Diet Prada for holding her “accountable”.

The backlash over the segment comes amid a rise in racism and violence against Asians, with Diet Prada noting that local Italian businesses began banning Chinese people from their establishments during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

This is also not the first time the TV show and its hosts have been faced with accusations of racism, as the show also came under criticism last week when it included a sketch that referred to Black children using a derogatory slur, according to writer and influencer Louis Pisano, who has condemned the show on his Instagram Stories.

“It’s so disturbing that these people continue to be that on the forefront of the Italian mainstream media, watched by millions, millions who are influenced and informed by this behaviour and in turn go out into the world and perpetuate it,” he wrote, according to Newsweek.

As of now, Scotti has not addressed the backlash over his involvement in Monday’s segment.

The Independent has contacted Striscia la Notizia for comment.

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