Malaysian film censor demands comeuppance for gays
The Malaysian Film Censorship Board has approved one of the country's first explicitly gay films — but has insisted on an unusual catch in order for it to get to theaters.
Dalam Botol (In A Bottle) is one of the first Malay-language films to overtly tackle the issue of homosexuality. As the extremely conservative Muslim-majority country very rarely lets films dealing with sexuality, religion, or politics
past the censors, some were surprised to hear that the film would hit theater screens. However, in order to get to the public, the film — which contains absolutely no nudity, sex, or even kissing — had one hoop that other Malaysian films do not
have to jump through: censors insisted that the gay characters must either repent or come to a bad end during the course of the film.
The movie has been described by producer Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman as a tragic love story between two men, one of whom undergoes a sex change operation in order to allow them to have a public relationship. The story is based off the
real-life experience of a man the producer knew.
When asked about the requirement that gay characters must repent or be shown in a negative light, Raja Azmi would only say that the characters indirectly express remorse.
Mohammad Hussain, chairman of the Film Censorship Board, said in an interview that, under new guidelines released in March, films dealing with homosexuality would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, although the theme was not
encouraged. Sodomy, even consensual, is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison in Malaysia.
Mohammad said there must be some good intention on the part of the filmmaker to show people that homosexuality is something that's not normal — at least in our culture.
Dalam Botol will be released in Malay-language markets next February.
Malaysia's first gay romance movie opens with playful scenes of a bare-chested male couple massaging each other on a beach at night — but their euphoria soon evaporates in a story that seeks to placate both conservative government censors
and contemporary audiences hungry for edgy material.
Dalam Botol , or In A Bottle , is a Malay-language film about a man who gets a sex change operation because he thought it would satisfy his male lover, but ends up regretting it.
The film earned applause from movie bloggers invited to its first public screening, three months before its scheduled nationwide release.
Even five years ago, we wouldn't have been able to make it, Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman, the film's producer and writer, said after the screening: I'm glad that at this time, at this moment, we can show it.
Censors now say depictions of homosexuality like those in Dalam Botol are no longer barred — as long as being gay isn't condoned.
If the movie had tried to glamorize the lifestyle of a gay person, it would be against our current standard guidelines, censorship board chief Mohamad Hussain Shafie told The Associated Press this week: But the character repents in the
end. We can say it is in line with our social values.
But the film takes few risks — its heterosexual male leads never kiss. The most explicit acknowledgment that the characters have sex is when one gets out of bed in his underwear while the other sleeps, presumably naked, beneath a blanket.
Nevertheless, there are raw, poignant scenes that capture the realities of being gay in a country where homosexuality is effectively outlawed.
In Dalam Botol, the main character is wracked with remorse after his operation prompts his partner to abandon him.
It's not an anti-gay movie. I believe it's not wrong to be gay, but it's wrong to have a sex change, Raja Azmi said.
Some gay men have mixed feelings about the film. I want to see gay characters in local movies, but it's wrong to make it seem like we're all so tragic and depressed, said a 30-year-old financial analyst who asked to be identified only as
Mark. Of course, I hope that someday, our society will be open enough to have a Malaysian movie about two gay men who meet, fall in love and live happily ever after.
The film — which has been approved for a February 2011 release to audiences older than 18 — was carefully vetted by censors from the start. Raja Azmi submitted her script to the board before filming it. She was told to change the
original title — Anu Dalam Botol, or Penis in a Bottle — and remove an intimate bedroom conversation between the male characters.
Boy meets boy. Boy falls in love with boy. Boy has a sex-change procedure in a misguided attempt to please his lover. Boy regrets his decision, moves back to hometown and falls in love with a girl.
The plot of ...Dalam Botol ( ...In a Bottle ), Malaysia's first feature film with gay lead characters, is causing a stir in the Muslim-majority country, where consensual sodomy is illegal and depictions of homosexuality in pop
culture are taboo.
The film opens next Thursday and will screen in 52 cinemas. It has already provoked the ire of religious organisations. The youth wing leader of the conservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic party (PAS) called it a shocking attempt to promote gay
The film has found little resonance with the country's handful of gay activists, who have joined the religious authorities in criticising the film, although for very different reasons.
Malaysia's film censorship rules require gay and transgendered characters to regret their actions and learn from supposed mistakes, guidelines to which ...Dalam Botol had to conform in order to receive screening permission.
Alex who blogs anonymously about gay issues said that while the film's groundbreaking depiction of gay characters could be seen as a sign of progress, he worried it would reinforce stereotypes in Malaysian culture: The ending is very negative.
Having the main character regret being gay and falling in love with a woman is not going to help our image problem here.
This is not the Brokeback Mountain of Malaysia. It presents LGBT people as depressed and confused, said Yuki Choe, a transsexual activist in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian society is trying to shame us. But whether we like it or not,
this is a Muslim country, and it's difficult to be open about your sexuality here.