Updated: The politics of censorship

4 04 2012

As has been widely reported in the media (see here and here), Thailand’s Film Censorship Board has banned another film under rules established by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, with some intent to protect the monarchy.

Some reports are that the first banned under its revised law was Tanwarin Sukhkapisit’s Insects in the Backyard. That transvestite-gay-themed film was banned for allegedly “being immoral and pornographic.” For some broader information on film censorship see here.

The most recent banning is of Shakespeare Must Die, claimed to be “the first Thai Shakespearean film, a horror movie adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’,” directed by Ing K.

The idea that any film should be banned in Thailand is a reflection of the inability of state’s to think and the fear of things that are somehow conceived as “abnormal” or “unThai” or “divisive.”

A press release by producer Manit Sriwanichpoom dated 3 April 2012, states that the Film Censorship Board, under the Department of Cultural Promotion, Ministry of Culture, stated:

the Board deems that the film Shakespeare Must Die has content that causes divisiveness among the people of the nation, according to Ministerial Regulations stipulating types of film, BE 2552 [AD 2009], Article 7 (3).

Therefore our verdict is to withhold permission; the film is grouped under films that are not allowed to be distributed in the Kingdom, according to Article 26(7) of the Royal Edict on Film and Video, BE 2551 [2008].

The letter from the Board is reproduced here. No real reasons are provided apart form the likelihood that the film will be “divisive.”

There’s no doubt that the film is anti-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-red shirt, but that isn’t a reason for doing anything about the film other than watching it. And we guess that some of the censors see it as possibly see it as a threat to the monarchy. After all, as Wikipedia describes it,

The Tragedy of Macbeth (commonly called Macbeth) is … about a man who commits regicide so as to become king and then commits further murders to maintain his power. The play clearly demonstrates the corrupting effect of ambition, but also deals with the relationship between cruelty and masculinity, tyranny and kingship, treachery, violence, guilt, prophecy, and disruption of the natural order.

So the censors panic and act like a bunch of ninnies and nannies and ban it.

A little on the film and its background may also be of interest for readers. As Manit points out, this was the “last film to receive financial support from the Ministry of Culture’s film fund…” That fund was controversial, with the government doling out money to royalist and royal film makers. Shakespeare Must Die’s credits in the trailer (linked above), also indicate that the making of the film was  supported by the Thai khemkaeng project, also established by the Abhisit government and highly controversial.

Manit adds that:

under the auspices of the Creative Thailand Project by the previous (Abhisit Vejajiva) government in 2010, but was only recently completed and submitted to the Censorship Board this year, under a new (Yingluck Shinawatra) government.

Ing and Manit are dedicated anti-Thaksinites, who last produced the film Citizen Juling, an almost 4-hour film that tended to sheet home the southern troubles to Thaksin, and was a surprisingly nationalist account. The military also gets some criticism, and royalism is also a big part of the Juling story.

While it did hit many of the important issues of the region, Citizen Juling was so long because  it degenerated into a self-indulgent rant, even if the IHT says it was an “intelligent and timely documentary…”. It was produced in association with senator-cum-Democrat Party politician Kraisak Choonhavan, and was shown in only one cinema in Thailand.

The new film is, if the information at its website and in the trailer is any indication, also an attack on Thaksin. As Manit states:

As every English-speaking middle school children know, ‘Macbeth’ is the supreme study of megalomania, the tale of a warlord with limitless ambition who, prompted by the prophecies of witches and egged on by his fiendish wife, kills his king to crown himself. A reign of terror ensues, as the paranoid tyrant must keep on killing to preserve his power.

It seems strange that the cultural ministry would ban Shakespeare, in the form of a film that the ministry itself had funded. It’s as if we’re actually living under a real live Macbeth.

Ing K. adds to this, stating that:

I’m writing this on the eve of sending Shakespeare Must Die to the censors, in an atmosphere of escalating and irreconcilable socio-political conflict under the Yingluck Shinawatra government….

Thailand is in the worst mood in my living memory; the very dust in the air is filled with rage, hate, grief and helplessness.

The picture is clear, although she makes it even clearer:

Are you not afraid that this film will contribute to the existing divisiveness? Are you biased against the red shirts? Aren’t you scared that the red shirts will kill you? Is the film an attack on the Shinawatra family? Is this film an attack on the royal family? (Given the current plague of lese majeste cases, let me confirm right here that every syllable in that scene is straight from Shakespeare; it’s a discussion of the Divine Right of Kings, ie they’re only divine if they behave, and it’s essentially about rulers and leaders of men, not only kings.) Is this film dredging up old and new wounds unnecessarily? Why does Khunying Mekhdeth (Lady Macbeth) call on evil spirits to possess her while praying before a Buddha statue? Etc.

Our cast and crew motto was: Fight Fear with Art; Make Art with Love…. We needed a brave set motto, since in the making of the film we faced literal hell fire (red shirt occupation and riots in 2010 which closed down the filming for two weeks, made it a hassle for everyone to get to work, especially Lady Macduff who was daily and nightly harassed by red shirt guards so that she had to move, and once on 28th April stranded us in Rangsit when the highway back to Bangkok was cut off when violence broke out and a soldier was shot dead by a sniper)….

Balanced and Fair…? Instead of demanding accuracy from a low-budget horror movie, why don’t you pose such questions to Newsweek, which has just named Yingluck as one of “150 Women Who Shake the World” alongside Aung San Suu Kyi and Hilary Clinton, praising her as one whose election “inspired hope of reconciliation in a country torn apart by two years of violent political protests…. Er, no, you can’t use my spittoon.

Linking to the horror of the October 1976 massacre, Ing K. says:

Instead of crazed royalists, however, now we have other violent, unreasoning, fanatical morons to be scared of, courtesy of the alchemical spin of the Thaksin machine.

…red is the universal colour for violence.

That is all controversial and politically one-sided stuff. That censors can’t stand the heat such a controversial film might generate, if it first generates an audience, tells us a lot about their fears. It is as though the censors consider Thais children who can’t be trusted with difficult and controversial ideas.  PPT reminds the censors that children grow, rebel, dissent, and may come to replace paternalistic ideas and values with something better.

Update: As might be expected, by banning the film, it now has plenty of publicity. When PPT last checked, Google was listing almost 300 media reports. We haven’t looked at them all, but found this report in the Christian Science Monitor useful.


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8 04 2012
More on banning films « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] posted a couple of days ago on the banning of the film “Shakespeare Must Die.” The controversy regarding this censorship is reported in The […]

8 04 2012
More on banning films « Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] posted a couple of days ago on the banning of the film “Shakespeare Must Die.” The controversy regarding this censorship is reported in The Nation, […]

10 04 2012
Double, double toil and trouble…

[…] if you want to read more about the controversy then Political Prisoners in Thailand is, as ever, a good place to […]

25 01 2013
Yellow fear? Or yellow fear campaign? « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] we don’t think the claims are worth repeating as we are unable to verify them (see our earlier post where we make our position clear on this film). In any case, debates about censorship of this film […]

25 01 2013
Yellow fear? Or yellow fear campaign? « Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] we don’t think the claims are worth repeating as we are unable to verify them (see our earlier post where we make our position clear on this film). In any case, debates about censorship of this film […]