Man Who Says He Was Inspiration For Chris Lilley's Jonah Reveals How TV Character Hurt Him
Chris Lilley's controversial character Jonah Takalua from Summer Heights High has certainly raised some eyebrows over years.
The Tongan schoolboy won over some hearts when the show debuted on the ABC in 2007, however some saw it as a problematic and superficial representation of an entire ethnic group.
One person who thought it was particularly problematic was Filipe Mahe.
He was featured in the 2004 documentary series Our Boys, which looked at the lives of several students and teachers at 'cash-strapped government school' Canterbury Boys High, in Sydney's inner west.
Filipe has explained how Chris Lilley came into his school after Our Boys was released to get an insight into how to play a particular character (who ended up being Jonah).
Mr Mahe was described as a 'charismatic and cheeky Tongan schoolboy having a tough time because of his reading, writing and family difficulties'. Sound familiar?
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Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald: "I knew from that episode Jonah was me. I've always thought it was racism to Tongans but never spoke out. I would have been labelled a 'sook' or 'can't handle the banter' so I didn't say anything.
"Young Tongan boys have been stereotyped as dumb, clowns, a nuisance, little s***s, violent and foul-mouthed. I feel like I'm responsible for this stereotype and that hurts the most.
"It hurts that people think I spoke in that manner to the public or to my family. I'm upset that people think I'm dumb or uneducated. I'm upset at how people think of me."
The head English teacher from Canterbury Boys High at the time of Our Boys, Daryl Currie, was similarly shocked when he saw Summer Heights High.
Not only was he disgusted by the use of brown face for Lilley to portray Jonah, but he said that the character's depiction in the show wasn't representative of what Tongan schoolboys were like.
Netflix recently removed four Chris Lilley comedies, Angry Boys, Summer Heights High, We Can Be Heroes and Jonah from Tonga, amid the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia.
Lilley hasn't responded to Filipe's hurt over his character, but was previously asked about his inspiration for the people on Summer Heights High.
"I met lots of boys who are of that age group and I just found them hilarious," he said. "I loved the idea of the naughty schoolboy and it just evolved from that."
Featured Image Credit: ABC