Top China actors Wang Yibo and Huang Jingyu have faced a backlash for appearing in blackface makeup in a new movie about Chinese peacekeepers in Africa.

On May 2, an online observer posted Wang’s blackface makeup from the action film Formed Police Unit, accusing the actors of “racial hostility”. The post has attracted 35,000 likes and 11,000 reposts.

Released in the mainland during the May Day holiday, the film is directed by Hong Kong director Lee Tat-chiu and produced by Andrew Lau Wai-keung.

It stars the two Chinese actors as peacekeeping police officers in a fictitious conflict-torn African country.

They wear the makeup in a scene in which they disguise themselves as local gangsters to rescue witnesses.

The practice of non-black performers using makeup to portray black people in entertainment works was popular in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, but was later considered offensive and racist.

The Chinese actors used the offensive blackface makeup to “look like” African gangsters. Photo: Weibo

In 2019, Canadian-born comedian Mark Rowswell, who is well-known in China under the stage name Dashan, apologised on Twitter over a high school performance he made with three friends 35 years ago, in which they painted their faces black to mimic the popular music quartet, The Four Tops.

China’s most watched show – China Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala – was also caught up in a controversy in 2018 when a comedian painted her face black to play an African who expresses gratitude for China’s help.

The storyline was made even worse because by her side stood an African actor dressed as a monkey.

The TV station did not apologise.

Then, in 2021, the gala used Chinese dancers performing African dances in blackface again, prompting more negative reaction.

Formed Police Unit’s aim was to show the heroic and selfless sacrifices of United Nations peacekeepers from China in the face of threats from criminal gangs and terrorists.

It was shot in a studio in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in 2021 as it was unrealistic to fly the crew to Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to promotional material for the movie, the makers had sought advice from United Nations senior security trainer Qian Jinjun.

The Post’s requests for comment on the scandal from the film’s main production company, Wanda Film, had gone unanswered by the time of writing.

Formed Police Unit tells the story of Chinese peacekeepers in a fictitious African nation. Photo: Weibo

On mainland social media, some online observers condemned the makers of, and actors in, the film for being “too ignorant”.

It is also not the first time Wang Yibo faced backlash for “ignorant” behaviour.

The actor was caught on camera making a “slant-eyes” pose, which is considered a racist depiction of Asians, during a 2019 fashion campaign.

The film ranked top with a 404 million yuan (US$56 million) box office take during the five-day May Day holiday, but was one of the lowest-rated new films on Douban, China’s most popular film review site, rating only 5.6 out of 10.