I was waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up so we could have dinner when I heard about the Lembaga Penapisan Filem (LPF) decided to delay the premier of Beauty and the Beast. When we got to a popular shopping mall in KL, the cinema was already decked out in cardboard cutouts, just waiting for moviegoers to take photographs with their favourite characters. Showtimes for the movie were also removed from the screens even though the promo materials displayed the date of release as March 16.
Written by Nadya Zahirah
Many moviegoers were understandably pissed because they were excited to bask in that nostalgia as well as be enchanted by their childhood stories being brought to life. The LPF pushed Disney to cut out the ‘gay’ scene (a gay man singing and dancing). Disney of course stood their ground and decided to not censor the film. The queer community rejoiced slightly but moviegoers were still upset.
They got their wish though. The movie premiered yesterday and all I’ve heard was good reviews from the locals. Nonetheless, censorships such as this not only hurt the audience or fans, but more importantly filmmakers. The movie was expected to make a lot of money over the opening weekend but ever since it was pushed back, the promotional efforts from cinemas and also from film distributor have dwindled since the case emerged. Of course, Disney is household name and a setback in one country would not affect their box office numbers that much. But when this happens to local films, the effects towards both the people put in work for their craft and also audiences.
If a locally produced film was centred around a queer storyline, by the end of it, the gay characters who are gay would either repent, die or marry someone of the opposite sex to show them giving up on their supposedly hedonistic lifestyle. And this if they’re lucky! Sometimes a completed film with a narrative such as this would never see the light of day even. One such film … Dalam Botol which tells the story of a transitioning trans woman managed to be screened in cinemas but it was only limited to 40 cinemas and it was heavily edited after being reviewed by the censorship board.
Reasons why such moves are detrimental to filmmakers, existing and aspiring ones is that it gives out the impression that your ideas only acceptable if they are confined within the norms laid out by the state. Creativity is only honed if it’s displays certain kinds of ideals which does not necessarily reflect the reality that the audience experience. And because we keep seeing the same storylines, same characteristics just with a different character, we never really get new and eye-opening films anymore. With a country as diverse as this, we surely have a plethora of stories to tell and film’s role in conveying them is halted due to the state deciding that we are incapable of handling certain issues or thinking for our own selves.
Censorship does not only apply to films especially recently. Last month, Pangrok Sulap displayed their gorgeous woodcut print pieces, Sabah Tanah air-ku at the Escape from SEA exhibition. Many Sabahans who were far away from home was excited to see their story represented in the Peninsular in such an interesting and satirical way. This only lasted for a while though because two days later, the artwork was taken down as word got to the Prime Minister’s office via an anonymous tip that it may be ‘seditious’. Again, many art consumers but more importantly, Sabahans were not pleased.
East Malaysians do not get enough and appropriate representations, that’s a fact. They are little to no characters that are of the indigenous people in popular mainstream media. Imagine being a contributing member of society in Malaysia and not seeing you stories, your people heck even your city in the media you consume. It’s disheartening for them and damaging to the bigger society. This lack of representation especially when backed by forceful erasure will breed ignorance in people who aren’t familiar with the experiences of East Malaysians.
Another thing to consider is that this erasure and silencing of independent artists’ work is only due to one anonymous tipper. Is the removal of an artwork that told the story of a state much better than any textbook can worth it due to hurt feelings? Should the work of a group of artists that took so much time, effort and skill be wasted away because one person either found it uninteresting or distasteful?
While it seems like music is not affected much by censorship, issues can emerge from live shows. In the past, international female artists coming over to perform here usually would go through such a huge fuss by conservative groups and people deeming them a ‘bad influence’ or ‘too provocative’ even before they stage their performance here. How they go about it is either cover up and wear more modest attires while performing or skip this whole country altogether. Beyonce and Ke$ha decided to cancel or bring their tour to neighbouring countries due to pressures they face. You can bet that fans are devastated and angry. Some may say that this attitude is hypocritical as local or regional dangdut performers can be just as provocative with their dance moves but the same groups won’t bat an eyelid on such shows.
It is important that the board as well as people realise that when consuming art, discretion should be practiced by the consumers themselves. It’s frankly problematic and quite offensive when unnecessary censorships happen because it’s implying that consumers cannot think for themselves and make wise decisions. The LPF should review movies prior to give caution for potentially triggering content such as rape and violence, not gay and religious themes (Remember Prince of Egypt, anyone?). People should also realise that consuming art and media is a choice. If something is only offending you and but it doesn’t seem to bring much harm to others, perhaps it’s just you. Don’t ruin the fun for everyone else.
Written by Nadya Zahirah