Kiwi actor Lucy Lawless has defended sharing a meme about the coronavirus pandemic after it was dubbed "racist and disappointing" by online commentators.
Over the weekend, the Xena: Warrior Princess star posted an image to Twitter that stated: "Whoever said one person can't change the world never ate an undercooked bat".
The post - a reference to unconfirmed rumours that COVID-19 originated from Chinese people who ate raw bats - quickly caused controversy, with swathes of Twitter users urging Lawless to delete the meme.
"Very disappointed... I really thought you were better than sharing racist memes," one response said.
"Nope! Bad post. You should delete this now," read another.
A Twitter user said the statement was "not true, and not funny".
Despite the backlash, Lawless has not removed the post, and reportedly told NZME the meme was "light-hearted" and that she found it funny that people were upset by it.
"You're not allowed to have any humour about [COVID-19] eh?" she said.
"I guess everybody has a lot of reasons to feel super pressured, but sometimes you've got to have a bit of light-heartedness.
"To take a little bit of joy where you can and not feel bad about it because we all do feel guilty when we are enjoying times with our families - as if we shouldn't."
Some fans agreed, defending Lawless as having just made a joke, and insisting the meme didn't have any racist undertones.
"I honestly think you are misjudging it, I don't think this image is about racism, as many of you criticise. This image speaks of the irresponsibility that some people have had and, like many others, have died for their action."
Lawless has not removed the post but has since admitted "bat jokes are not funny" in a subsequent tweet.
"OK. Bat jokes not funny especially when we are only [at the] beginning of the curve of societal pain," she wrote on Tuesday.
"But this is our chance for proper transformation. The world was on a sick trajectory long before COVID. This is exposing our inequity and indifference and spiritual laziness. #NoGoingBack."