Sex.Violence.FamilyValues ruling for “political correctness”: Films Appeal Committee member

(L-R) Films Consultative Panel member Hanna Taufiq Siraj, Films Appeal Committee member Professor Walter Woon, Tembusu College rector Professor Tommy Koh, special research adviser Arun Mahizhnan and Sex.Violence.FamilyValues director Ken Kwek answer a question from a forum attendee at the "Porn Masala – Balancing Artistic Freedom and Racial Harmony" forum (NUS photo/Ikhsan Suri)

[UPDATE 29 Apr 9.30am: Clarified details of film's theatrical run]

The ruling to reclassify Singapore movie Sex.Violence.FamilyValues with edits was to “throw a sop” to a segment of the population that had sent in complaints about the movie’s trailer in the motto of “political correctness”, says a member of the Films Appeal Committee.

Professor Walter Woon said this on Thursday evening at a five-member panel forum organised by the Tembusu College in the National University of Singapore. The forum, “Porn Masala – Balancing Artistic Freedom and Racial Harmony”, was moderated by Professor Tommy Koh, the rector of the college.

The made-in-Singapore anthology had originally been given an M18 rating before being banned three days before its theatrical release last October. The movie was finally given an R21 rating in January, accompanied by edits to the dialogue of a Chinese director mocking the Indian accent.

The movie made S$10,000 on opening weekend and had its theatrical run extended for two weeks. It grossed a total of S$40,000 with just one print which distributor Cathay Cinemas screened in a single hall.

The five-member panel was joined by Sex.Violence.FamilyValues director Ken Kwek, Films Consultative Panel member Hanna Taufiq Siraj and special research adviser at the Institute of Policy Studies Arun Mahizhnan. All panelists agreed in their own personal capacity that the movie was rightly released in the end to encourage discussion on bigotry and racism.

“I believe in artistic freedom but I believe Singapore’s cultural development will be impeded if we do not empower our artists to think… but at the same time, we don’t want our artistic freedom to undermine our treasured racial and religious harmony,” said Prof Koh, who identified himself as a liberal.

‘Cope, not control’

Kwek pressed on with his intention of the film, saying that the film was not meant to mock Indians but the Chinese director’s racist language instead. He accused citizens of accepting double standards, as censors had passed similarly racist dialogue on British film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with a PG rating.

In response to Kwek, Prof Woon said that Sex.Violence.FamilyValues was not allowed because the contentious scene showed a majority race mocking a minority race. Woon further revealed that two waves of complaints – largely based on the film’s trailer – were heard from the films committee.

Woon speculated that there might have been a “concerted effort” to push the second wave of complaints, alleging that some members of the public might have stoked emotions among others.

Responding to Kwek’s criticism of Singaporeans not being able to detect satire, Prof Koh jokingly said, “Singaporeans are very dense. We may never see it as satire.”

Mahizhnan highlighted the importance of censorship but questioned its approach in preventing the “pollution of the public sphere”.

“How does the government know exactly what the people want? Should majority views prevail over minority views?” questioned Mahizhnan.

He further postulated, “We have to learn to cope with whatever public opinions we are faced with. We have to learn to navigate and negotiate, regulate what is regulable. If it can’t cope with one Ken Kwek, what are we going to do with a thousand Ken Kweks?”

‘Don’t second-guess community response’

After questions about the member selection process of the Films Consultative Panel and Films Appeal Committee surfaced from forum attendees, most panelists agreed that members selected for these committees are representative of the community but should not second-guess public response.

Hanna, a first-time films consultative panel member, recounted grappling with how she should represent the female and Malay/Muslim community in making decisions but later said that she was advised by her higher-ups to represent her best judgment instead.

“We have become so racialised that we feel we are representative of our own communities,” Hanna added.

Woon also questioned possible differences in opinion between civil servants and the top brass, urging the elite “not to be patronising” in second-guessing community response and to take responsibility in leadership.

"If (a civil servant) makes a decision that turns out to be wrong and embarrasses the masters, he might be at fault. Therefore, we have been told, “Let’s not be too liberal, not more liberal than the person upstairs,’’” said Woon.

Kwek said that Sex.Violence.FamilyValues will be released online, uncut, some time in the middle of the year.