A former Tongan schoolboy who was the subject of a 2004 ABC documentary series has claimed that Chris Lilley based his controversial Jonah character on him – and says he feels "angry and exploited".
Filipe Mahe, 33, came forward in an interview published in the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend, claiming he had caught Lilley's attention after he was a subject of the 2004 doco Our Boys, filmed at Sydney's Canterbury Boys High.
After the documentary aired, Lilley visited the school to sit in classes and watch Tongan students perform, while he researched what would be his second ABC comedy series, 2007's Summer Heights High.
That series saw the debut of "Jonah", a disobedient student from Tonga played by Lilley, who wore make-up to darken his skin for the role.
Mahe saw many similarities between himself and Jonah: both cheeky students who loved dancing but had difficulties reading. Both were from single-parent households, and they even shared a naughty habit – asking angry female teachers if they were having their period.
Mahe told the Sydney Morning Herald he was "absolutely embarrassed, full of hate, angry and exploited" when he saw Lilley's character on screen for the first time, but wasn't sure how to speak out.
"I've always thought it was racism to Tongans but never spoke out," he said. "I would have been labelled a 'sook' or 'can't handle the banter' so I didn't say anything."
An English teacher at Canterbury Boys High also said he was "livid" when he saw Summer Heights High, saying that Pacific Islander students "were reduced to stereotypes and tropes that were hurtful and misleading."
In a separate piece published by the Sydney Morning Herald, Our Boys director Kerry Brewster voiced her anger at Lilley: "As a documentary film-maker, I believe Lilley exploited my work and used its content to create a derisive brown-face caricature," she wrote.
She claimed that the school's Islander students were "mortified" by Summer Heights High, and that she and her co-producer shared alarm "that a vulnerable child had been used to create a national figure of fun."
"Did Lilley ever wonder about the damage his Jonah caricature had on the boy who inspired it?" she asked.
The allegations come after Netflix earlier this month removed four popular Lilley shows from its platform.
The award-winning Australian comedian portrayed several racially diverse characters in his various series, with We Can Be Heroes, Summer Heights High, Angry Boys and Jonah From Tonga ripped from the streaming service.
In Angry Boys, which aired in 2011, Lilley used blackface to portray rapper S.Mouse.
His first show released in 2005, We Can Be Heroes, saw Lilley play Chinese physics student Ricky Wong, among a host of other characters vying for Australian of the Year.
It earned Lilley a Logie award for Best New Talent. He went on to win Most Popular Actor for Summer Heights High in 2008, which also won Most Outstanding Comedy Programme.
His most recent show Lunatics, released last year, is still available on Netflix.