Growing up in Kluang in the 90s, I never had much chance to go to the movies. I made up for my lack of cinema experience with VHS rentals; I would pass my father a list of sci-fi films and Japanese tokusatsu series to rent during school holidays.
Internet and film reviews were not as accessible as they are now, so determining age ratings and whether they were suitable for kids were mostly left to luck and the fast-forward button. Up until now, I still have not watched Lawnmower Man, Johnny Mnemonic, and Demolition Man.
But that was then. Nowadays, you can at least find out the age ratings of films through show lists in the papers. Those with access to the Internet can even find out exactly which scenes may not be appropriate for their children. As it is, film trailers already reveal much of the plot, sometimes too much.
Therefore, it is baffling why Malaysian censors still resort to the archaic practice of censorship, even after giving age ratings. What is the point of giving the highest rating of 18, when the film still ends up cut anyway?
The act itself reeks of masturbatory possessiveness: now that the censors have seen something they felt salacious, no way they would ever the let the public see it.
Alas, the public will — through pirated VCDs and torrent files, or even legal streaming services — still see what they want to see. In the age of Internet, censorship is moot save for satisfying your self-righteous ego.
It is as if they do not trust Malaysian parents to review which films are suitable for their children, and to have a family chat later explaining what puzzling things their kids may have seen. Because that is what responsible parents would do.
The problem, however, lies with many parents who have little to no care for their own children, outsourcing the responsibility instead to the nanny State. Which is how we ended up with the Beauty and the Beast fiasco.
There is nothing right with the Censorship Board’s decision to cut the so-called “gay moments”, even after slapping an age rating of 13 on the film. It is wrong not so much because it is not their job, it is wrong because it is blatant homophobia.
Let me put this in context: the “gay moment” was nothing obscene. Nobody had sex, nobody even kissed. According to the Board’s chairman Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid, it involved a song with Josh Gad’s character Le Fou, identified by the makers as a gay man.
“The way he dances is… gay and the dialogue and the lyrics of the song are too. In the same scene he also lifts up his shirt and shows a love bite on his tummy.
“Even I wanted to bring my grandchildren to watch it. But there are rules. We don’t support LGBT,” Abdul Halim told news agency AFP, proudly declaring his homophobia, as he made up this rule about Malaysia not supporting LGBT.
While Disney should be praised for its tough stance, I am not under the illusion it did so because of a pro-LGBT agenda.
It is first and foremost a company, and it puts its money where the market is. And the market nowadays yearns for diversity and inclusivity, which is why there was a black man in the 2015 Cinderella remake. And now a gay man.
But that is besides the point. Children should see gay characters in their films. They must be taught that gays exist, they are no different from heterosexuals, and should be treated the same.
The world is changing. The next generation is no longer chained to obsolete ideas still held by old men who would force their beliefs on others. And us parents must take up this challenge to keep up.
It warmed my heart to see a 15-year-old girl join the KL Women’s March last week. To be aware of feminism and women’s rights at such a young age, her parents did good. At 15 all I cared about were music and comics — the Kosovo War just flew right over my head.
There was a photo of her holding a placard saying she cannot become a prime minister, because all people care about is her lack of tudung, or headscarf. The irony was, she was then attacked online by both men and women who have stood so long in the shadow of patriarchy for not wearing tudung. For bothering with feminism. For even daring to dream to be a prime minister.
And that is the sad and terrifying state of our country right now, where women are being denied their rights, and when they speak up they just get kicked down again. As a parent and father, this is why I stand in solidarity with our fighting women, and why you should too.
Because what we are up against is decades of indoctrination by a patriarchal society that banks on religion to legitimise their dominance. And of course, religion itself is lending them more credence than they deserve.
Recently I participated in a forum organised by the MCA on the Bill to allow Shariah courts to impose harsher punishments. There, I had reminded the public of how our religious enforcers are oppressing our Muslim transgender citizens; just by stepping out of their doors, they are effectively committing a Shariah offence. Where is the dignity in that?
I got labelled an “LGBT supporter” instead, as if that was a bad thing.
But that is just because they are not aware, not bothering to understand that our understanding of gender and sex has advanced with science — that they are not binary between male and female, but rather a spectrum. It is much easier to let kids understand this.
As parents, we can try to rid the world of bigotry. And that starts by teaching our kids not to hate. And to respect, and accept everybody for who they are.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist, Zurairi AR.