When the news that the release of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast had been postponed indefinitely in Malaysian cinemas, the media was in an uproar. Not just locally but the rest of the world were picking up on the fact that Disney had pulled out the film from release in Malaysia because the Film Censorship Board had approved the film with cuts, removing the scenes which are deemed inappropriate. Critics have gone on both extremes; from going all the way to proclaim that homosexuality is simply a part of nature, to defend that the script never said that the character, ‘Le Fou’, is gay at all.
What interests me in this affair is how the Film Censorship Board was placed under the spotlight for overreacting and all of the attention seems to be focused on whether their decision to cut the scenes was appropriate or a bit too much.
Has everyone forgotten that this hype would not have taken place had Disney not refused to release the film without the cutting of these minor and subtle scenes? If Disney did not put their foot in, the film would have been released with the fact that these minor cuts were made would go unnoticed as with many, many films being censored and cut worldwide. Disney would be able to market their product in Malaysia without forcing their own ideals to be universally accepted in places where they are not welcome.
Malaysia is a country of a diverse population of multiple races and religions. When making major decisions or policies that involve such a unique mix, we often have to make amends to accommodate to the minorities as sometimes the well-intended actions may appear offensive to someone else with a different view. It was the reason why the compulsory reading for Form 5 Malay Literature subject in Zone 2 was changed from ‘Interlok’ to ‘Konserto Terakhir’. In the novel, ‘Interlok’, words like ‘pariah’ and ‘black people’ were used to describe the Indians to give a more realistic and historically accurate depiction of the setting which was set in the early 1900s. There was no malice intended here but the Ministry of Education had considered those who were offended by it regardless and addressed the issue accordingly.
Regarding the Beauty and The Beast film, it is easy to perceive the issue the way it is presented to us through the international media; that Malaysians are making much ado over nothing. And we as the tolerate, politically correct, ‘berbudi bahasa’ Malaysians, accustomed to protecting the feelings of the minorities, are quick to judge ourselves and wonder “have we really gone too far?” when the question we should have asked is, “why do they not consider our local customs, faiths, traditions and way of life? Would cutting out 4 minutes and 38 seconds of scenes which play no huge role in the story arc really negatively affect the quality of the story itself other than removing the homosexual connotations which are not acceptable by our local laws, faiths and social norms?”.
Throughout history, we have been accommodating to the minorities and outsiders in general and it is a value that we can be proud of admitting as our own; but we must also remember to proclaim and protect our own sovereign rights within our own land before we sacrifice all of them. And before you think that it is impossible for us to lose what is internationally and legally declared as ours, just look at our brothers and sisters in Rohingya and Palestine who are being denied of their own homes and birth rights.
Let us not forget that blessings come not just in the physical and material form, but also in forms of values, ideals and faith. We do not want to bring our future generations into a world where they thought of us with bitter regret for not protecting what is theirs. And for these men with power over many, such as those in the Film Censorship Board, they are responsible not just for themselves and their own family but that of the entire nation.
And shall I say, I commend the Film Censorship Board for their valiant efforts in saying ‘enough is enough’ to the world on behalf of the rest of us; risking all of the critics, mockery and insults they received. Even if in the end, the Film Appeal Committee had assented to allow the film to be screened without cuts, the Film Censorship Board had carried out their role well and done their part in preserving our values and our rights.