Let the past remain where it belongs
The New Straits Times. 31 May 2006
AND so it has come to pass. Despite MPs and a significant number of commentators finding nothing objectionable with Amir Muhammad’s The Last Communist, the film will remain banned.
Facts, common sense and reasoning, once again, have lost out to . . . actually, I don’t know what.
Nonetheless, the ban and the clamour of voices against it highlight the struggle going on between the progressive and conservative sections of our society today. Both are seeking to define the nation’s present and future.
On one side, we have those keen to push Malaysia to become a more open and tolerant society that values discourse, dissent and debate as a means to progress. On the other, are those not keen on change and ready to stifle any dissenting voices or do not understand.
In the past 20 years, Malaysia has undergone tremendous economic development. We have also become quite good at setting records. But if we have been growing in terms of buildings, cars and highways, what many like myself believe is that it is time to progress in other meaningful ways, in terms of culture, arts, media, ethnic relations, human rights and equality.
It is time for Malaysians, and not only Malaysia in the physical sense, to shine.
While many would attribute the opening up of Malaysia to the new leadership, I think it’s an inevitable development after 22 years under one prime minister. Civil society and politicians from both sides of the aisle would probably not allow anyone else such an iron grip over the country again.
But progress often faces resistance from those threatened by change. When a civil society dialogue aimed at countering the erosion of the Federal Constitution was held, some felt threatened. Unfortunately, they fought back not with factual arguments or intellectual debate, but with mob violence.
Or how about the MyTeam vs national squad football game last weekend? Regardless of the match quality, it was more than a game on the field, but also a challenge to the FAM and its way of doing things. Of course, there would be resistance. Instead of being supportive of all Malaysian football, some football officials went as far as belittling the MyTeam squad as "instant noodles".
Yet, in the end, FAM played it safe by fielding not the national team as previously stated but one that was comprised mostly of under-20 players.
Returning to the realm of film, the same resistance to change and progress can be found. As a writer for a Klang Valley arts and entertainment monthly, I am familiar with the work of independent film-makers such as Amir.
It is distressing to see how the work of such forward-thinking people is constantly being challenged by those threatened by emerging voices.
It’s not just the ban. When Yasmin Ahmad’s Sepet, a film that won the Best Asian Film Award at the 18th Tokyo International Film Festival, also became popular with local audiences, it wasn’t met with the support one would have expected.
Where was the Malaysia Boleh brigade? Instead, it was called by some as an undeserving winner of best film at the Malaysian Film Festival, or even worse, a subversive film that threatens our culture.
It’s no secret that the mainstream Bahasa Malaysia film industry, generally, doesn’t appeal to non-Malays, or those looking for more than mere entertainment. So when films from outside the industry appeal to Malaysians (as well as foreigners), some found it threatening. Just when we were starting to see these independent movies make their way into our cinemas, the backlash began.
The fact is independent film-makers like Yasmin, Amir, James Lee, Ho Yuhang and many others have attained international acclaim without depending on either government or mainstream film industry support.
Despite receiving positive reviews from international media, winning accolades at film festivals from Asia to Europe to the Americas, these film-makers have neither over-inflated their achievements nor have they asked for datukships.
Some might think it takes an E-Village to make films, but the independent film-making community managed to bring their creative visions to life on small budgets by working on one another’s projects, multitasking as producers, directors of photography, publicists, and even actors. And for what? Financial gain can’t be a motivation, as many of these films are virtually ignored by the local movie- going public.
In fact, if money were so important, all their films would be in BM, considering how Malaysian films that aren’t in the national language are ineligible for tax rebates on ticket sales.
So here they are, making films because they want to, not bothering anyone, yet finding themselves attacked by politicians, media and film industry people threatened by their success.
Instead of putting these multi-ethnic, creative people on RTM’s payroll, we have someone spouting inanities about how wives should never let their husbands cook.
It is because of this sense of being unrepresented that young people like myself are turning away from traditional media, preferring the Internet as a source of information. Conservative voices are also abundant online, but at least they can’t stifle the opinions of others.
Still, I suppose it’s not surprising that as we head towards the much- lauded goal of becoming a modern, developed nation, we will be impeded by the heft of our history and by those unwilling to let the past remain where it belongs — in the past.
* Brian Yap is a writer at the Klang Valley monthly magazine KLue.