The enforcement of morality in films. Can movies really teach us life lessons through dramatization?
Lord Devlin once mentioned that morality is different throughout generations meaning that if a peer group perceived that trans-sexuality is immoral, the later generation might not share the same opinion. The majority of the Malaysian society is mostly conservatives who are yet to openly discuss about topics such as homosexuality and drug use (which are no longer considered as a taboo in the 21st century especially in the West) without preconception thus, the question that arises is whether such subjects should be embarked upon in films. Motion pictures are considered to be a medium of art that is easily transmitted to the public and this give way to filmmakers to instigate a conversation on controversial topics i.e. the non-prejudicial description of prostitution in Yasmin Ahmad’s Gubra which tells the story of an escort named Temah who’d contracted HIV and shed light on the concern of sexually transmitted diseases.
The character in one of Yasmin Ahmad’s provocative films was revealed to be someone who isn’t one dimensional as what the public would identify because she’d shown interest in taking lessons in reading the Quran even though she was in a prohibited profession. A scene in the film that was often discussed was of a muezzin petting a stray dog; it’s general knowledge that Muslims are not allowed to touch dogs (specifically dogs with wet fur) for hygienic reasons. The scene has garnered criticism and backlash from the Muslim community though it had started a necessary exchange that explains the situation because Muslims may pet canines but, they must perform special cleansing in accordance to the Islamic requirements. Similarly in her film, Sepet, Yasmin Ahmad has approached racial and social pressure faced by a Malay girl who’s in relations with a Chinese boy in a period when interracial couples are not common and she’d continued to portray such couples in her other films i.e. Talentime.
The issue of sexual orientation has been a challenge in Malaysia and this can be observed from the introduction of homosexuality and sex-change in a mainstream film called Dalam Botol… The film’s plot is quite straightforward; the main character named Rubidin (played by Arja Lee) was born a male however, he’d wished to undergo surgery to remove his penis for a vagina in order to become the woman he’d recognised as his identity. The film was under scrutiny by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia and producer, Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman was required to make changes to the storyline whereby the character will repent or come to a bad end due to his decision. The guideline proved problematic since it did not allow an open debate on the matter of sex and gender instead the film’s narrative was linear and restricted. At a time when Kuala Lumpur has witnessed annual sexuality rights festival called Seksualiti Merdeka since 2008, it’s rather difficult to limit the conversation on this topic whether one would agree or not. However, it is notable that the board allowed such a rare film to be screened in public cinemas.
Another sensitive premise that is noteworthy in a film is baby-trafficking syndicate which was dealt with in Songlap starring Shaheizy Sam and Syafie Naswip as brothers involved in the criminal organisation. The story was compact with raw portrayals of crimes from prostitution to gambling and even incest (non-consensual) between a father and a daughter. The Best Action Film winner at the ASEAN International Film Festival and Awards 2013 focused on the illegality of baby-trafficking from the perspective of the offenders who were desperate and were forced to participate in the illicitness of one of Kuala Lumpur’s most notorious underground crimes hence, giving the audience the reality that characters are not necessarily truly evil or good as a whole.
Juvana, a film which is a sequel to the drama series of the same name gave an insight on juvenile cases and rehabilitative schools and this coincidentally became a window to the discreet world of adolescent offenders since the Court for Children has restrict viewers who are not related to the cases from attending the trials. The plot unveiled the gritty and brutal lives of juveniles in a corrective facility as well as how the society treats a youth who has served his sentence. I’ve been to proceedings trying adolescents for offences which ranged from dealing drugs to stealing motorcycle parts and by being a spectator, I could understand the various reasons birthing their actions to commit the crimes which is why Juvana is significant in giving a comprehension for viewers into these invisible children’s lives. The cinematic depiction of these social issues so in tune with the recent generation is debatable in films for there is always space for fiction and exaggeration though, the effort made by filmmakers to inform the public on these matters creatively should be acknowledged. It’s through this medium that we are well-aware of situations occurring in other classes of society even though it may receive negative reaction from some groups such as the ban on Pekak in Brunei for the reason that a film on a deaf drug dealer could give bad influence on the Muslim majority audience. The method that these issues are dealt in cinema is open to criticism but, absolutely prohibiting any form of discussion on these subjects will stunt the development in approaching them without prejudice from the community.
Featured image; Screenshot from the film, Songlap.