Malaysian films stir up racial tensions of the past

Malaysian films stir up racial tensions of the past
A worker cleaning the floor in front of a poster advertising movie named "Tanda Putera" at a local cinema in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR - Two Malaysian films are challenging longstanding taboos about discussing politically touchy subjects, and the controversy they have generated has triggered fears they could spark racial unrest.

The films, "Tanda Putera (Mark of Princes)" and "The New Village", are the first serious attempts to portray the human drama of two key episodes in the multi-ethnic nation's history.

But though the films have not yet been publicly screened, they are already tearing at unhealed wounds in the often uneasy co-existence between majority Malays and the large Chinese minority.

"Tanda Putera" is said to support the long-ruling authoritarian regime's official line - widely disputed - that Chinese political parties stoked deadly 1969 riots that remain a source of division to this day.

And "The New Village" has been accused by Malay groups of "glorifying" a bloody insurgency by mostly ethnic Chinese communists in the 1950s and 60s.

Such content would have previously been unthinkable under the Malay-dominated Barisan Nasional (National Front) regime, in power since 1957 independence.

But strong public pressure has led to a loosening of controls over the past decade and increasingly polemical discourse.

Sociologist Ooi Kee Beng said the films could feed what he calls a Malaysian yearning for non-Barisan versions of the past.

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