Monday, February 07, 2005

Information discrimination

Yasmin Ahmad gave her two cents worth about censorship, which was featured in today's theSun. First things first, I find it funny when she was asked,
"Do you think the [cut] scenes were necessary?"
And she responded so well.
If the scenes were not neccessary, I would not have shot them.

Well, all her blog visitors have followed her trials and tribulations with the Censorship Board (CB) in releasing her first baby from the start. But the most touching blog for me is this one. She has to compromise for the sake of the ppl behind the film. Again, financial woes overcome the art. However, I'm glad that she did because even though it's not as perfect as she wanted it to be it would still be seen. Hopefully she can find a way to release a director's cut of the film. Hey, I would go to the ends of the earth to get a copy.

She expressed her frustration with CB on how they wanted to promote inter-racial integration but yet clamp down on films like Sepet. We have always try to justify CB's actions in any of its decisions. But one thing pops to my mind while reading this interview, and I feel that this applies to most government bodies. They are just afraid that Trajedi 13 Mei will occur again.

Everyone agrees that the event on 13 May 1969 was significant yet it is the least talked about event in this country. This event was not even mentioned in school history textbooks (at least when I was in school 10 years ago). A search for "trajedi 13 Mei" at Google only yielded a few related hits but the articles just mention that event as an example or reference but never really elaborated on it. A few hits talk about Tun Dr Mahathir's role after the event (most of them in a negative way), how he loudly criticize the then PM, Tunku Abdul Rahman, which led to his UMNO membership being revoked. No luck either when I entered "tragedy 13 may". Majority of the hits are from another country.

This event was bloody, brutal and mindless, so I was told. All I knew about this event is the many stories told to me by my friends who heard it from another friend who knew someone's uncle who was 7 years old at that time. So you can understand my predicament. I actually had a copy of what I think an official report of the event but I actually borrowed it to a friend and to make long story short I didn't get it back. (Note to self: must find a way to get it back!)

So, why all this hush-hush treatment on a historical event? This is one of the greatest mysteries for me that I wish I could uncover. One possible explaination is that the government is afraid that by talking about it, it would reignite the animosity between the Malays and Chinese. This is because the most controversial aspect of 13 May is, who started it? The Malays point their fingers to the Chinese for being too cocky, flaunting their win of the '69 election while insulting the Malays. Meanwhile the Chinese pointed their fingers to the Malays saying they're the ones who picked up the parang first. I should not take this personally, but having both Malay and Chinese genes in me it does make you feel torn at times.

I don't know what the government did at that time. I remembered from the report (that I've read only once) that they came up with various policies. But whatever it was it has succeeded in curbing any more major racial disputes. If I'm not mistaken there were still a few skirmishes after 13 May but they were not as big as the one in KL.

The decision to minimize the information with regards to this event is something that I cannot fully agree nor disagree. I disagree that any historical event can be wiped out and forgotten. That not talking about it doesn't make it go away. But I agree that some (not all) would still be offended with the racial issue underlying this event. That all it takes is a spark and a wild fire could ensue.

But preventing a director from trying to make the most honest film that she can present is not the way to minimize racial disputes. In fact, I don't think there is any racial slurs in the scenes that were taken out accept for one. Here, you can be the judge yourself.

Four out of the eight scenes taken out were: -
(courtesy of theSun)

1. Husband tickling his wife affectionaly in bed.
Now, I can understand that being a Muslim, it is not appropriate to show two unrelated ppl in bed tickling each other. But there are also other Malay movies where you see young couples (playing characters who are not married) hugging and holding hands in public. So what's the difference? I assume that the couple featured in this scene is Ida Nerina and Harith Iskandar. Now with no intention to insult anyone, is it because the couple in Sepet is not so pretty to look at? So okay they are not as pretty as... say... Erra Fazira and Yusry but that cannot be the reason why this scene didn't get through, can it?

2. The Chinese boy and his Malay girlfriend go to a photo shop and take a picture on a motorcycle.
Unless they were doing the 'bedroom lambada' on the motorcycle, I don't see why they have to take this out.

3. A scene between two characters where one says, "not all Chinese men cheat and not all Malay men are lazy". The Malay girl replies: "That is where you are wrong; all Malay men are lazy."
This is the scene that I'm a bit uncomfortable with in that it's possible these remarks may not sit well with some ppl. But I fully accept Yasmin's explaination on why this scene is important, "This whole scene is done tongue-in-cheek and it goes to show that Malays can joke about themselves."

4. A scene at a nightspot showing a GRO sitting on the lap of the lead character. Later, he gets angry and leaves. The GRO falls to the floor and when she picks herself up, she gives him the finger.
Ooooh... the finger... very taboo one... But the irony is even the so-called great west, a culture most ppl claim this generation is idolizing will not show the finger on their national tv. Well yes they still allow it at the cinemas, with the appropriate ratings. And it's also true that they have different standards of censorship with different media. So why can't we adopt the same approach and thus give our artists the freedom in expressing their art?

Yasmin thinks that the board is "old-fashioned" and do not "actually have a passion about film" which I agree. But the suggestion to replace them with a younger set of ppl is noble yet pretty ambitious. I don't see it coming until the present members resign or die. But then, in the event that any of them resign or die, they would just be replaced with another old-fashioned, politically-charged member.

But what I do hope is that the next generation of leaders would at least try to break away from this tradition. Keep an open mind and try to judge things in context rather than taking it at face value. I love this country and I think it's great but I truly believe that it can be even greater.

You know what, now I'm excited to see Yusof Haslam's Sembilu 2005, another movie that also features an inter-racial love story. I would love to put Sembilu and Sepet side by side and see which film is more appealing to the general public and why.

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