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PETALING JAYA, April 29 — Despite movie bans and censored scenes, a film producer has come to the defence of the Film Censorship Board (LPF).
Film producer Lina Tan, who has dealt with censorship in her 25 years of making films, said the country’s film censors are merely forced to respond to public complaints in their desire to please everyone.
“The Censorship Board is not our enemy,” the founder and managing director of Red Communications and Red Films told a forum here Thursday night.
Owing to the non-homogeneous society in Malaysia, censors would have to review films that they had approved for screening in local cinemas if a formal complaint is lodged, she said.
“Actually they want to please everybody and that’s their biggest problem. They just don’t want to get any complaint, that’s all. They really want to please every segment of society and that’s where the problem lies,” she later added, responding to a comment during the forum on how LPF was doing both censoring and using the ratings system.
“So it’s about them trying to appease the likes of Pemuda PAS to the likes of Kuala Lumpur, Bangsar. And you know it’s so diverse, you are never going to get to please everybody,” Tan added, noting the impossibility of the task as everyone has an opinion.
Malaysia censors films through scene deletions and bans, but at the same time, also practises a ratings system — which was recently used to release the Beauty and The Beast film and the latest movie in the Power Rangers franchise with no cuts but a P13 classification.
Rebutting the impression that Malaysia’s film censors are “scary” or “irrational” individuals, Tan said the censors were willing to engage with filmmakers and would even work together to arrive at a solution in the depiction of scenes to avoid potential complaints.
Many of the other forum panellists concurred with Tan that the censorship board is not the actual obstacle to freedom of expression in Malaysia, and that it has always been about complaints and segments of local society that have yet to move on with the changing times or continue to hold on to conservative outlooks.
Tan noted the arbitrary nature of censorships where drug pills could not be shown years ago but injection of drugs was now permissible, voicing her concern that censorship of the depiction of historical situations — such as local women who “berkemban” or dress by using a cloth to wrap their bodies from the bosom downwards — would eventually lead to a change of local history.
She cited the New Village film which failed to make it to cinemas due to the fictional love story’s historical setting as another example and noted the challenge in making films set in the past, later saying: “I’m worried, because we are censoring our history,... and history is going to be changed. Because kids — they read history textbooks but they also watch films.”
“If we are going to say allow freedom of speech, ‘so I can make my left-wing film, a gay film’, you are going to have right people say ‘I want to make my film and do a righteous, religious film’, then where does it end?” she also asked, noting that local filmmakers have be conscious of the society they live in and to strike a balance as well as engage with the censors.
A Malaysia with zero censorship?
Independent filmmaker Tan Chui Mui backed a film classification system instead of film cuts in Malaysia and noted that there are countries where there is no censorship, but also said such a scenario could prove challenging for society.
“But I do hope we can actually fight and can go to the state of no censorship, but I think we all need to have a more mature audience and society,” she said.
Tan light-heartedly confessed to having a “warm feeling” towards LPF as she and her colleagues would have “fun” trying to accommodate the censors’ concerns, including a scene in a film where a boy was holding a dog as the azan or Muslims prayer call played in the background.
She said the censorship board does have its own values that it would want to preserve and control when vetting films, but noted that Malaysians who see themselves as liberal may not be ready for zero censorship or may selectively champion freedom of speech.
“So if you want to say freedom of speech and freedom of expression, we can freely express ourselves, we should also accept people when they are extremely feminist or racist, we should also let them speak. But we are not, so we do actually judge them,” she said.
Datuk Kamil Othman, the Communications and Multimedia Ministry’s advisor for creative industries, similarly said the real issue was not the Censorship Board, but Malaysian society that includes those with liberal and conservative views.
He stressed that the censorship board is always evolving with the times and is moving in the right direction, noting that examples where it had loosened up included allowing swear words to be shown in movies screened locally for an 18-and-above audience, such as Deadpool and Logan.
“We can actually start engaging now, let’s say just because one person can complain and something is pulled out, when was the last time we wrote to Censorship Board and said ‘Attaboy! You are good because you released that film with all the things intact’ ?... So give them an opportunity, but at the same time praise them too,” he said.
Kamil noted that the Censorship Board could well be “more confident” if they have thousands writing in to back them for every complaint received on their decisions.
“But I think it’s a real challenging job, because I think they are trying. But the Censorship Board is about evolving, they are not as static as it seems. They are in fact encouraging young local filmmakers here to come and meet them with the script so that they can help, but then again at the same time, there are also other forces at work here,” he later added.
The key issue in Malaysia is not censorship, but whether the local film industry is ready to make good films and have good storytelling, content and performance in place, he said.
“Because Malaysia, well not for all, but the film industry here is a heavily-subsidised industry, it has not created filmmakers, it’s created ‘grantreprenuers’,” the former National Film Development Corporation Malaysia director-general said, referring to some filmmakers who rely on grants for their films and noting that there is a missing element in many local films that would otherwise elevate them to become good films.
The three and lawyer Syahredzan Johan were speakers at Thursday night’s “The Future of Cinema and Censorship in Malaysia”, which was jointly organised by Pusat Komas, the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights and the Freedom Film Network.