TikToker films herself crying over Vietnamese woman who rowed her coconut boat, criticised for ‘poverty porn’

She has since deleted the video.

Natalie Teo |
May 11, 2023, 4:49 pm

We’re not starting a cult but some followers on Instagram would be nice. Thank you.

Travel TikToker Fiona Wang (@heyfionawang) has been slammed online for posting a video of herself crying after taking a coconut boat ride from a local woman while travelling in Vietnam.

Her video, which has since been deleted, shows herself crying while the onscreen text reads:

“She made me cry because she tried so hard to make us happy, and it breaks my heart to see people working so hard to make a living in Vietnam.”

The video, which was posted on May 6, received 6.7 million views and 1.2 million likes before it was eventually taken down.

Accused of making “poverty porn”

While some reacted positively, many have criticised the Australian content creator, especially for the use of the #poverty hashtag.

She was accused of making “poverty porn” and partaking in “slum tourism”.

User Jeff Kissubi (@blondejeff) called her video “tone deaf”, saying that “it’s the pure definition of white saviour”, which he characterised as people from first-world countries “going to less developed countries and posting it online for a reaction”.

He continued:

“You’re trying to narrate her experience as someone that is living in poverty whilst you know nothing about her and how she lives, and her living conditions.”

@blondejeff

Videos like this shows how disassociated a lot of you are from reality and very much tone deaf ! #greenscreenvideo #educate #learnfromblondejeff

♬ original sound – Jeff kissubi

Meanwhile, user Sarah (@voguefordinnerr), a Vietnamese living in the United States, had a different perspective to offer.

Sarah shared that she had been considering a move back to Vietnam because “the American lifestyle is just not it”.

She went on to say that in Vietnam, people have “a simpler life for more happiness” and that “their life is a lot better and easier”.

Addressing Fiona’s video, Sarah also said:

“I feel like we push this Western narrative on so many places… There’s like nothing to feel bad about honestly for these people… You’re crying over someone who’s just doing their job and seems happy with their life.”

Image via voguefordinnerr/TikTok

Fiona’s response

In a statement to Insider, Fiona denied that she was looking down on Vietnamese people.

She said: “In fact, in my caption, I said I can see so much genuine happiness and the familial bond is incredible. But I did also see poverty and struggle, and seeing both sides really did hit me hard.”

While she acknowledged that her video might have come across as “asking for attention”, she added that she wanted her content to reflect “when [she’s] sad, making mistakes, or learning”.

Nevertheless, Fiona has taken down the video, allegedly because of harassing messages that she and her partner have received.

What is poverty porn?

CNN refers to poverty porn as “a tactic used by nonprofits and charity organisations to gain empathy and contributions from donors by showing exploitative imagery of people living in destitute conditions”.

The images often inspire feelings of discomfort and guilt, though it is also hoped that sharing these images may help raise awareness of poverty.

However, former New York Times photographer Chester Higgins Jr. has criticised such imagery.

Having worked and lived in Africa for 20 years, he said that poverty porn made by non-African photographers of African people are taken without consent and “lack decency [and] dignity”.

Images via Fiona Wang’s TikTok.

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