Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ban this!

The Malaysian ban is final. The Home Affairs Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad says so.

We have not managed to make an appointment to see him. We sent him a 2-page appeal letter on 23 May but he has not replied. When I called his private secretary a few days ago, I was told that "the Minister has more important things to do now."

The same report gives a clue about what some of these things might be: In the final paragraphs he reminds Puteri Umno members to register to vote.

The reasons that he has given in the media for the ban have ranged from: It's insensitive to release it when Umno is celebrating its 60th anniversary; it might make people think Chin Peng is a 'poor old man'; and (my favourite) the documentary does not show enough violence.

Radzi had initially said that the Umno Supreme Council and not the government would have the final say. He seems to think that the Emergency affected Umno more than any other segment of society. But this proposal seems to have been quietly dropped.

He said that the ban was because "the people had protested." The fact that the majority of commentators online as well as in the English, Chinese and Malay print media are opposed to the ban does not seem to concern him; are these not people? The fact that the new Censorship Board committee (which had passed the documentary uncut) seems now determined to start treating Malaysians like rational people also means nothing. How many steps forward, how many steps back?

Lelaki Komunis Terakhir is now the first Malaysian movie to be conclusively banned, with no possibility of appeal.

There have been other Malaysian films banned before - Spinning Gasing, Amok, Fantasia - but these were reversed on appeal, sometimes by going right up to the Prime Minister. I don't feel like going up to the Prime Minister. I've never even met the guy, and I'm sure he has more important things to do.

Yes, I lost a bit of money. But this can be slowly regained through the Korean TV sale and the Singapore box-office.

Of course I'm disappointed; not so much for myself as for what this signals for a country that has been lately harping on the need for a 'First World mentality' and to have a 'knowledge-based economy'. This is the same government that wonders why so many of its graduates that study overseas choose to stay overseas!

Will this discourage me from making other documentaries? Hell no. This is my country as much as it is any politician's, and I will continue to pursue subjects that interest me.

Will this discourage me from trying to release future movies in Malaysia? Well, this is a tougher one. The past month (since the ban was announced on 5 May) has been such an intense one. I don't know if I want to go through that again. It distracts me from what I should be doing, which is concentrating on the next documentary, which I am quite excited about and now raising money for.

I would like to thank all of you who have written in support, either on your blogs, or in newspaper columns, or who just utilised the Comments function on this here site. I have no illusion that you did it because you are concerned about me; rather you were -- quite rightly -- concerned about where this country is heading. The passion and intelligence displayed have been quite humbling, and of course inspiring.

I will continue to talk about this ban if asked. And there are many more overseas screenings lined up.

I have not 'given up' but time is precious and I need to pick my battles. I am sure the Malaysian public is resourceful enough to eventually see the documentary if they so wish.

What did hurt me (I'm only human) is when people say that my documentary will offend their grandfathers who 'fought' the communists. I had no wish to offend people's grandfathers, especially those I'd never met. And then I thought: What did these grandpas fight for? Seriously. Assuming they really risked their lives and fought, what were the ideals that motivated them? I would have thought they were fighting for the right for Malaya (and later Malaysia) to be a democratic society with plural voices, and not the totalitarian state that they assumed the communists would bring about. Totalitarian states, as we all know, are notoriously fond of banning things that don't immediately follow the party line. So did they really get what they fought for?

There have been many ironies attached to this project, and here is another: A huge worry that was articulated (mainly by people who had not seen it) is that this little documentary will somehow promote Chin Peng. Thanks to the publicity the ban has generated, a rep from a major local book-chain told me that Chin Peng's book is now sold-out and new copies had to be ordered. The past month has seen the highest sales of any time since it was launched.

To give the government due credit, this was probably all a roundabout way of encouraging people to read. And to this what can I, a longtime reader, say but Syabas?


Anonymous zan said...


7:22 pm  
Blogger Sharanya Manivannan said...

Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts. I think the financial loss you've incurred pales in comparison to the place in local film history that LKT now has, being the first conclusively banned film. I don't mean to trivialize the anxieties you are facing now, but rest assured that there will be vindication.

8:05 pm  
Anonymous siew eng said...

Amir, we love you too!

I had thought your case would be part of the broader picture on tolerance painted in this article in the Sun, but it's not. Anyway, it still resonates of your case:

In quest of tolerance
Sonia Randhawa

Tolerance is not about putting up with things that are familiar and ordinary. It's about putting up with (and more) things that we are uncomfortable with. Celebrating diversity is celebrating the idea that people can be different. They're two of the fundamentals, we're told, of life in Malaysia.

Yet we seem wholly uncomfortable with diversity, whether religious, political, sexual or even racial. When a Chinese woman called into a Malay-language radio show, the DJ was surprised: The Chinese don't listen to Malay-language programmes. This is a borderline case, not really intolerance but a subtle drawing of boundaries around where Malaysians are supposed to fit. Surprise when someone steps out of their racial norms. A more blatant case of intolerance is the manner in which sexual minorities are treated.

At some times, in some places, most recently under apartheid in South Africa, it has been illegal to love somebody of a different race. And, in South Africa, race was clearly, legally defined. The reasons were moral. That it was abnormal, unethical to have sexual relations with somebody different. It was akin to bestiality. Under the Nazis, it was the Jews. In Rwanda, it was Tutsis. It was unclean, a sin. A crime against God. There were concerns that these relations would pollute the pure, that it would lead to a weakening, genetically, of the superior races.

It's an idea that is morally repugnant to most Malaysians. Yet we condemn and criminalise people of the same sex who love each other. It too is akin to bestiality. It is a pollutant that must be expunged, kept to the West where it belongs.

Yet the West, traditionally, has seen same-sex love as an Arabic and an Asian contaminant. A friend pointed out that all the countries in Asia with criminal laws against homosexuality have shared a British coloniser. Victorian values permanently reshaping Asian ideas of progressive and conservative moralities? Traditional "Asian" values seem to resemble the mores that sent Oscar Wilde to Reading Gaol far more than they represent the mores of the Minangkabau matriarchy.

We have a higher tolerance, it appears, for imposed rather than indigenous moralities. These, after all, were entrenched not only through a couple of centuries of colonial rule, but also through decades of Western TV. This hit home in a televised debate on the demerits of Sepet and Gubra.

The associate arts editor of a Malay daily seemed to set himself up as the custodian of Malay culture. He lambasted Yasmin Ahmad for a film that could have "confused" people (obviously bad). It was outrageous that parents could condone an inter-racial relationship. He worried that it was a pollutant of Malay culture, the Malay race. And he said all this wearing a suit. On national TV. For the whole country to see, and be confused by. No baju Melayu. A bush suit, in a country where neither bush nor suits are indigenous.

It appears that we can condone and tolerate parts of the Western culture, adopted unadapted and unthinkingly, as long as the West considers them conservative. Everything from the business suit to the brassiere is Malaysian. But if the West considers behaviour outside the norm, we reject it. Even if there are traditional variants of these "modern" activities, rooted in this archipelago. Even if, with more imagination, we take these cultural artifacts and reshape them in our image. As youths have done with Black Metal. As long as passive, condoned consumption takes place, tolerance reigns. Is tolerance real when it's always suffixed as being "tolerant, but"?

Sonia is the Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Journalism, working on communication rights, holds a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and spends her time equally between writing, teaching and ranting.

Updated: 02:41PM Tue, 30 May 2006

11:21 pm  
Blogger Norman said...

Looks like I have to find another way to see your movie. The schizophrenia of malaysia and its "moral guardians" has always been facinatingly depressing.

Here's hoping for better times ahead.

5:53 pm  
Anonymous tukang potong said...

Jom pi melancong/cuti-cuti bersama "Lelaki Komunis Terakhir"!

3:31 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lagu patriotik memang bes. Yg paling bes, Negaraku. Jadi memang pandai sekali si Amir ni "mempermainkan" lagu-lagu dalam genre ini.

Ini pulak video yg I baru jumpa dalam youtube.

Saya tak sanggup nyanyikan lagu kebangsaan kita selepas menonton keganasan dan korupsi keRAJAan dan Polis RAJA di Malaysia ni.

6:22 am  
Anonymous Jade said...

Inche' Amir,
if you don't release your movies in malaysia after this, how are we, the people who can't really go over the selat that easy, going to catch them? Maybe you should do private screenings...? He he he...

5:12 pm  
Anonymous evan said...

i cannot fathom how the authority can be so.....ignorant and incompetent.

it breaks my heart, when they are so much odds going againts the local art scene. and they expect some growth from it. anyways, don't let them get to you. if they continue to ban it. it will just give u more opportunities to fluorish abroad , read: INTERNATIONAL! woohoo.

then, u can shove it in their face. hehe. anyways, is there any way i can catch this documentary of urs? i'm ever the supporter of local art scene plus i'm due to write an essay about ur film and why it is banned.

8:38 pm  
Blogger szu said...

hey man,
cant u devise any plans to get this movie to larger audience? really la i want to watch it but the tambak johor is a bit too far from shah alam. dun listen to them art morons, anything that dun confirm to their ancient ideals is considered unfit for all malaysians, wic is crap, and put me off cinema for at 5 years now. in support of u my bro expresses his anger by wanting to hunt down the head of jins shamsudin. such an unworthy head he has.

3:35 am  
Anonymous Mohd Iblis Bin Mohd Saitarn said...

Fark them all.
Kautim something with the DVD pirates and sell through there.

6:43 pm  
Anonymous LyNNe said...

Amir, i've always love your works. So it's quite disappointing when i read about the ban of last communist since i've been waiting for it since i first saw its trailer.. :) is there like any other way for you to still release the docu? not even thru dvd? anyway i wish u all the best in your future projects. u rock!

5:49 pm  

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