Sketch mocking Chinese launches racism debate in Italy

Michelle Hunziker upon her arrival at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Milan, Italy, on Sept. 22, 2019. Swiss-Italian TV host Michelle Hunziker apologized on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, for mimicking Asians on a satirical television program that drew wide-spread protests on social media. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Michelle Hunziker upon her arrival at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Milan, Italy, on Sept. 22, 2019. Swiss-Italian TV host Michelle Hunziker apologized on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, for mimicking Asians on a satirical television program that drew wide-spread protests on social media. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

MILAN – A sketch on a popular Italian TV show mocking Chinese people has launched a debate about racism, and satire, in Italy.

While Asian and Black activists took to social media to share their experiences with racism growing up in Italy, including how it can be fomented by satire, the TV hosts at the center of the uproar said Thursday they have been subjected to a “wave of hatred,” including death threats.

Michelle Hunziker and Gerry Scotti, hosts of the satirical show “Striscia la Notizia” (“The News Crawls”) on the private Mediaset network, apologized for the sketch during which they made slanted-eye gestures and mimicked a Chinese accent as they introduced a segment.

“We are pained, deeply,” Hunziker told Corriere della Sera in an interview published a day after she apologized on Instagram. “We were in good faith: we are very sorry knowing that we bumped against the sensitivity of someone. But what is happening is frightening: we received a real wave of hatred that is being spread in an instrumentalized way.”

Hunziker spoke of an organized campaign against the co-hosts, that also targeted the Trussardi fashion house founded by the family of her husband, Tomaso Trussardi. “We are talking about almond-shaped eyes made by Gerry and me, when in China there are unspeakable things happening, on which we should concentrate if we want to speak of human rights.”

The producers of the show, however, refused to apologize, saying that “Striscia la Notizia” is satire, “and like satirical and comic programs all over the world, politically incorrect.”

And they struck back, citing “spurious and fascist initiatives of those who think they are blackmailing international companies and brands.”

It was the second time that the pair were skewered recently on social media, after they replayed an older sketch that used racist language to describe African children. And it comes a week after Black Lives Matter protests outside the Rome studios of RAI state television over on-air racist language and the use of blackface on one show.