Film censorship in Malaysia – from Beauty and the Beast to Lena Hendry (part 1)

Written by Cia Yee Goh

Many hearts were broken when it was announced that the release of Beauty and the Beast in Malaysia had been postponed indefinitely pending internal review by Walt Disney Co (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd.[1]

While Film Censorship Board (LPF) chairperson, Datuk Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid has clarified that the film is approved with minor edits, [2] Disney has come out to state that they would not be performing any edits on the film, choosing instead to pull the movie from Malaysia indefinitely. [3]

This is in light of some minor controversy surrounding the film with Russia having considered banning the movie although a 16+ rating was eventually decided upon.[4]

An Alabama theatre in the US has also opted not to screen the movie and the movie has also seemed to ruffle feathers within the Anglican Church.[5]

While the chairperson attempted to shift the blame by clarifying that the date of screening and where the screening takes place is not under LPF’s jurisdiction, one can’t help but look at the facts and feel that things don’t exactly add up.

The chairperson stated that edits to the film had to be made after the film’s director, Bill Condon stated on March 1st that there was a “nice, exclusively gay moment” in the movie featuring one of the characters in his statement.[6]

The moment according to actress Emma Watson, involves LeFou, played by Josh Gad, flirting in a subtle way with Gaston, played by Luke Evans, and dancing with another male character.[7]

However, a search on the LPF’s website reveals that the film was already approved by the LPF on the 23rd of February, a week before Condon’s statement.

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Leading from that fact, one can safely assume that the LPF’s issuance of a second approval with edits to the film although they had already given one a few weeks before would have most likely been the cause for the recent postponement of the film.

Why this is problematic

One must not turn a blind eye to the fact that homophobia was an indirect cause for the postponement.

The situation is perhaps worse considering that in this instance the subtle element of homosexuality that is implied on screen should not have been something to be even concerned about given that the Board had already approved the film in its entirety.

Edits should not have been done in the first place and certainly not after a full approval had already been given to the film.

The LPF’s actions also seem to suggest that it may at anytime, as it wishes to do so, re-review any film that has already been given a full approval by the board although there is no provision in the Film Censorship Act that suggests such wide-ranging powers.

There are provisions within the Act that allows a review by the Appeals Committee (ss21-23) but only when an appeal is brought by the owner of the film who is aggrieved by the decision of the Board.

The LPF’s nonchalant withdrawal or variation of its own first approval is problematic and only serves to further highlight the flaws of the Film Censorship Act.

One may agree with the argument that the LPF should have the ability to review their previous approvals for various legitimate reasons such as unintentional mistakes but allowing such actions without the relevant statutory guideline to provide checks and balances is undesirable as it affords vast amounts of powers to the LPF and creates a level of uncertainty for companies and film distributors when an approval can seemingly be revoked or varied without much effort.

This is made worse by the general immunity from a lawsuit that the Film Censorship Act (s 50) provides to members of the board in respect of any bona fide act, decision or statement done. The bona fide threshold is a very subjective one and creates a level of uncertainty.

Can a review of a previous approval because of an unintentional mistake be considered bona fide?

Would have a bona fide member of the board made such a mistake in the first place?

The statutory framework should definitely be improved upon in this particular area.

Film censorship is a serious issue as it restricts one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in the Federal Constitution, the right to freedom of speech (Article 10).

Any restriction on such a right must be carefully debated and analysed and not be left simply to the discretion of the State without a watertight statutory framework that provides the necessary checks and balances.

The whole situation with Beauty and the Beast also raises a larger issue concerning homosexuality in Malaysia and the role censorship plays in it.

Yes homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia but so is murder and violence but the latter seems to get preferential treatment in a Malaysian cinema.

As far as I know there is no express statutory provision in Malaysia prohibiting homosexuality itself or the romantic and sexual attraction between two persons of the same gender.

You can’t simply erase the inherent sexual nature of a human being by attempting to censor any conversations about it.

The sexual orientation of a person seems likely to have a complex and diverse range of biological, environmental and cultural influences and arguably these factors when combined do not necessarily afford a person much conscious choice in sexual orientation.[8]

It is, hence, highly unlikely for a subtle scene in Beauty and the Beast to play much of a role in influencing the sexual orientation of a person.

As studies have shown, attempts of gay conversion therapy could worsen feelings of self-hatred and anxiety. Although certain treatments could dampen sexual responsiveness to same-sex erotica, it did nothing to change sexual orientation.[9]

Instead of viewing the scene in Beauty and the Beast as harmful to younger audiences, perhaps the Board should view such a scene as an opportunity for younger audiences to discover and embrace a part of themselves that they often spend most of their youth in conflict with while under the often-judgmental eyes of our society.

The next part of the article will be discussing Lena Hendry and more about the Film Censorship Act.

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Cia Yee is a third year law student at the University of Nottingham. Cia Yee believes in the power of small things and therefore believes in himself. A self-proclaimed old soul and master of lame jokes, he is in constant pursuit of self growth, acknowledging that his privileged Subang Jaya background and the blood and sweat of his parents have contributed much to where he is today. Equipped with the degree and resources available to him, Cia Yee seeks to contribute his efforts to a larger journey of change, a journey which he might never see conclude in his lifetime… …but nevertheless, a journey that shall nourish his spirit; a roaring sea.
ASASIkini tries its best to share reliable content from third parties without prejudice and with a firm belief in freedom of expression. All articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion and ASASIkini, and KPUM, does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by the writers.

References:

[1] http://m.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/in-malaysia-beauty-and-the-beast-release-postponed-pending-internal-review

[2] http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/03/14/beauty-and-the-beast-lpf/

[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-14/disney-pulls-beauty-from-malaysia-rather-than-cut-gay-moment

[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/russia-could-ban-beauty-beast-films-gay-moment/

[5] https://heatst.com/entertainment/anglican-church-warns-against-beauty-and-the-beast-for-gay-content/

[6] http://attitude.co.uk/world-exclusive-beauty-and-the-beast-set-to-make-disney-history-with-gay-character/

[7] http://www.christianpost.com/news/emma-watson-says-gay-moment-disneys-beauty-and-the-beast-fun-177328/

[8] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/11922975/The-latest-gay-gene-study-gives-no-comfort-to-homophobes.html

[9] http://www.livescience.com/50453-why-gay-conversion-therapy-harmful.html

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