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Hypocritical for Malaysian leaders to praise Michelle Yeoh while Mentega Terbang producers and actors are persecuted

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Lawyers for Liberty refers to the praise that the prime minister and other government leaders have lavished on Michelle Yeoh over her historic Oscar win for best actress for the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once.

It is hypocritical, insincere and contradictory for government leaders and the national film development corporation Finas to sing praises for Yeoh’s win, whilst hardworking local film producers and actors are subjected to harassment and criminal investigations over the content of their films.

Are Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil and other leaders not aware that in Malaysia, Yeoh’s movie would have led to a criminal investigation for “offending sentiments” or “breach of religious sensitivity” due to the LGBT themes in it? Yeoh herself would likely have been hauled up for police questioning, as is now being done to the Mentega Terbang actors.

For the government to now ride on the coat-tails of Yeoh’s brilliant Oscar win is distasteful and ironical. Will the government now withdraw or repent their repressive actions against locally produced movies Pulau and Mentega Terbang? Will they at least now stop kowtowing to the moral policing of zealots and give our film producers the artistic freedom to create great films?

Ministers like Fahmi Fadzil are promising to improve our national film policy. But such statements ring hollow when a film like Mentega Terbang that tries to explore heavier and mature themes is subjected to criminal investigations and condemnations from government agencies trying to appease vocal conservatives.

Local filmmakers and producers have long been shackled by the excessive censorship that the previous governments have imposed on them, and the supposedly reformist government led by Pakatan Harapan has shown it is no different.

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What the government must understand is that art is subjective; whilst it can be for entertainment, it can also be thought-provoking, which would also mean that it may even be deemed offensive by some. However, that in of itself does not warrant wanton censorship for the purported sake of “maintaining public order”.

Art, in any shape or form, is protected under the freedom of expression under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. As such, it is the duty of the government to protect such artistic expression and not give way to certain groups who want to dictate what can or cannot be produced. When that is the measure of censorship, the scales would heavily favour the perceived majority at the expense of the minority, leading to a total erasure of realities that minority groups wish to tell through their chosen artistic medium.

The Oscar win that the government so desperately wants to co-opt as a glorious moment for the country should be a glaring example of the vast creative force that exists within Malaysia, if only Malaysian filmmakers and artists are given the chance to do the same here without harassment.

If the government truly wants to take credit for any accolades obtained by Malaysian artists, then it should protect the products of creative freedom within our own country by upholding it as part of a right safeguarded by Article 10(1)(a) of our Constitution.

The first step in the right direction in that regard would be to immediately halt ongoing investigations of all those involved in the Mentega Terbang film and to stop using enforcement authorities to harass other local filmmakers and artists for their art in the future.

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Only then can the local film and art scene truly flourish and the government would have a right to share in the glory of the achievements of Malaysian actors or filmmakers. – LFL

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Benedict Lopez
15 Mar 2023 8.56pm

Nobody, including Aliran, had the decency to pay tribute to legendary golfer, M. Ramayah who passed away recently. Ramayah trained so many Malaysians in golf and his passing was completely ignored, not even mentioned by Aliran. I do not have much knowledge on golf if not I would have penned a few lines.

Now this is a true Malaysian hero, not Michelle Yeoh!!!

I was passing Jalan Maarof in Bangsar this evening and saw a huge neon sign which read, “Make March 13 Michelle Yeoh Day.” What a nonsensical sign to be placed!!!

Benedict Lopez
15 Mar 2023 3.08pm

Not only our political leaders, but Astro continuous to congratulate Michelle Yeoh on winning this once prestigious award. Does she deserve all this publicity?

Yet, Aliran was completely silent on the passing of a renowned personality like Pope Benedict XV1

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