The Film Censorship Board of Malaysia categorically stated that Pulau (Island) is a horror flick and not porn, in defence against critics claiming the film has excessive steamy scenes considered offensive to the moral values of ordinary people.
Based on what was seen in the film trailer that was circulated on social media, a conservative segment of society has urged the board to review its approval for the movie screening. The movie is slated to be screened on 9 March.
Such an adverse public reaction also reportedly prompted Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil to conclude that the film trailer is not suitable for public viewing.
But there were others who felt that the film is not pornographic as it merely reflects the social reality in which some women on vacation do wear bikinis on the beach, get sun-kissed and occasionally gain a smooch or two from partners.
Rights group Lawyers for Liberty expressed concern that state intervention in the creative arts, particularly the film industry, would stifle the freedom of expression of local artistes and film producers, especially if such intervention is meant to pander to conservatives.
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Such a government response to public disquiet over the film must be seen against the backdrop of the surging ‘green wave’ as shown in the recent general election.
But such interference in the arts, LFL said, should be checked.
As it stands, films in Malaysia have to go through a laborious and challenging process of filtering, which invariably restrains creativity and freedom of expression.
Creative endeavours such as filmmaking generally challenge conventions, goad the film-viewing public to think out of the box, and attempt to represent social realities that some people are afraid to acknowledge. This explains why some films can earn the ire of political conservatives and the holier-than-thou lot.
Criticism of so-called steamy scenes is just one example of how artistic creativity can be tampered with by certain social forces.
The fear is that such interference could take the film industry down a slippery slope.
For instance, would the Malay nationalists not be livid if hypothetically among those (in this film) who went to the island on a romantic rendezvous were interracial couples, involving Malay women and Bangladeshi men – given that there are many migrant workers in our midst? Would such stark reality represented by such a film be too difficult to swallow?
What if the vacationers on the island included Malay men and women from the upper crust of society – who are normally insulated from public gaze – but show their flamboyant lifestyle that includes booze and other forms of merrymaking? Would this film smudge the good name of Muslim-majority Malaysia, and would such a social contradiction therefore deserve the snip?
Content creators in the film industry need the freedom to tell a story in a particular way that they feel is most effective. There is a danger that any attempt to curb that freedom would make their outlook and creative output insular. – The Malaysian Insight