Singapore Filmmakers Need To Be More Progressive On Their Interpretations Of Race

To Singaporeans complaining about whitewashing & cultural appropriation in Hollywood:

PLEASE LAH. The same thing’s been happening in our own little film industry, and no-one seems to have spoken up about it.

CASE ONE: Jack Neo’s “Ah Boyz to Men”: a film about National Service in which ALL the main characters were Chinese. When he had the chance to reboot the series with a Part 3, did he develop one of the Malay, Indian or Eurasian minor characters? Nope! He invited a Taiwanese guest star to steal the limelight. (Remember, this show got MINDEF money to create images of the SAF which no non-Chinese kid would identify with.)

CASE TWO: Gilbert Chan’s “23:59” and “Ghost Child/鬼仔”。 These are horror movies based on Malay folklore: spirits on Pulau Tekong (where you can’t bring pork) and the toyol. The casts are completely made up of Chinese people.

CASE THREE: Raymond Tan’s “Wayang Boy/戏曲小子”. This one’s interesting, because the main character is an Indian immigrant kid who speaks Mandarin, and Suhaimi Yusof plays a teacher in his school. And yet it’s set in a Singapore where there are no other Indians (his dad’s dead and his stepmother’s a Chinese woman who forces him to speak Chinese).

CASE FOUR: Nearly all the shows on Channel 8—still Mediacorp’s most-watched channel—do not feature Malay, Indian or Eurasian characters. In contrast, Suria and Vasantham shows feature Chinese sidekicks regularly.

The obvious rebuttal to this is that it’s harder to cast non-Chinese when you’re working in Mandarin, which is the language that seems to do best for film and TV here (another kettle of fish there…).

And yet some shows have done it successfully. Chai Yee Wei’s “That Girl in Pinafore”. Jack Neo’s “Long Long Time Ago”. These films don’t shy away from racial prejudice either—they expose it. On Channel 8 there was also “School Days/七彩学堂”, which was a Chinese version of “Mind Your Language”, but with less stereotyping.

(Oh, and tons of young non-Chinese Singaporeans today can speak Mandarin. They just may not have told you.)

By the way, Jack Neo’s making “Ah Boyz to Men 4” and Gilbert Chan’s making “23:59 Part 2”. Can anyone buzz them and tell them to be a little more progressive? Thanks.


Source: Ng Yi-Sheng

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