A Chinese variety show has apologised for editing a post-surgery photo of US pop star Selena Gomez and actress Francia Raisa in a comedy sketch.
The episode of Who’s the Murderer? altered the picture, taken after Raisa donated her kidney to Gomez in 2017, to replace the duo with men.
Users on China’s Weibo social media site branded the image “disrespectful” as Gomez has lupus disease.
The show said on Thursday it held the “deepest regret” for its “negligence”.
The statement confirmed the content has now been removed from the show’s future broadcasts.
Who’s the Murderer? – which airs on China’s Mango TV channel and is adapted from South Korean programme Crime Scene – sees celebrities play various characters as they try to solve a murder mystery.
The apology came after a widespread backlash, including from Gomez’s Chinese fan club. The group posted a condemnation of the show’s production team on Wednesday, criticising the decision to use the sensitive photo for entertainment purposes.
“Selena’s original intention of publishing photos of her surgery to the public was to let fans understand her experience during the surgery and to draw attention to the disease of lupus,” read the viral Weibo post, which has received more than 100,000 likes.
“But now the show is editing the photo for entertainment. This is out of line.”
Kerry Allen, China Media Analyst
Mango TV is one of China’s most watched entertainment channels, and Who’s The Murderer? is wildly popular. Its official account has more than four million followers on Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo.Selena Gomez also has a huge fan base in China, so people were very quick to pick up on the doctored image.
When the programme issued its apology on Thursday, more than 79,000 Weibo users used the hashtag #WhosTheMurdererApologises.
Fans of Ms Gomez commented that the image was “disrespectful” not only to her but to people with lupus, given that she had originally posted the image to raise awareness of the condition.
Many were unsatisfied that the programme did not specifically reference her by name in its apology.
However, others commented that they did not think the image was doctored “maliciously” and noted “this is not the first time” that production teams have carelessly used material for overseas.
Earlier this month, another Chinese company apologised for plagiarising scenes from the on-screen adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books.
Gomez used the original transplant photo to reveal the procedure in an Instagram post in 2017. It was tied to her lupus diagnosis, a condition that affects the immune system and can have wide-reaching effects on the body.
She went on to post pictures of her scars and express heartfelt thanks to her “beautiful friend” Raisa.
“She gave me the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed,” Gomez said of the actress. “I love you so much sis.”
It is not the first time the surgery has been the subject of jokes.
Last year the makers of rebooted high school drama Saved By The Bell apologised to the singer for making light of the procedure.
One scene saw characters query who donated the kidney, with one claiming it was Demi Lovato and another suggesting it was Justin Bieber’s mother.
Later in the episode graffiti appears on the wall reading: “Does Selena Gomez even have kidneys?”
A spokesperson for NBC said it was “never our intention” to joke about her surgery.
In response, Raisa praised other organ donors on social media for performing a “selfless act”.
Gomez and Raisa first met at a Disney and ABC charity event at a children’s hospital in 2007.
Raisa is best known for teen drama The Secret Life of the American Teenager and has also appeared in Black-ish spin-off Grown-ish.