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Banned film: Community standards important, says panel

One of the 3 short films in the compendium by director Ken Kwek was judged to be offensive to Indians. -ST

Sat, Oct 13, 2012
The Straits Times

Ken Kwek (left), director of Sex.Violence.FamilyValues on the set of his film.

SINGAPORE - Community standards come first, said one of the members of the panel that voted to give the rare Not Allowed For All Rating to the Singapore comedy Sex.Violence.FamilyValues on Monday, effectively banning it.

A film with such a rating is not allowed to be screened. One of the three short films in the compendium by first-time director Ken Kwek was judged to be offensive to Indians.

Ms Cheryl Ng, 49, the first vice-chairman of the Films Consultative Panel, pointed out that she and other members of the panel were aware of "artistic elements" such as satire. But community standards take precedence, she said.

"This film goes out to the community, how will the community react? Are they ready to accept this film as a laugh, or is it going to hurt them so much that it will raise conflict between the races?"

The film had earlier received an M18 rating from the Media Development Authority's (MDA) Board of Film Censors.

Ms Ng explained that there was no U-turn in the classification because the board and the panel give their ratings independently of each other.

The panel consists of members of the public who represent a cross-section of Singapore society and who meet when the board needs to consult the panel, such as when a complaint is received about a film.

Ms Ng said that of the more than a dozen members of all races who reviewed the film on Monday, most of the Indians, along with a majority of the other members, felt the film had "crossed the line".

While the sacking of Ms Amy Cheong, an assistant director in the National Trades Union Congress, on Monday over her racist online comments was not mentioned during the panel's deliberations, there was a "general atmosphere" of heightened sensitivity.

This can be seen in the recent spate of racially offensive Facebook posts and tweets, and the public backlash that followed.

"From these, we can see that Singaporeans are not ready to accept comments about stereotypes," said Ms Ng.

Actor Vadi PVSS, 42, who plays the Indian character in the short film Porn Masala, and the target of racist comments from the boorish Chinese character played by Adrian Pang, said the film "clearly points out that the root of racist views and bigotry is ignorance".

"Unfortunately, in the climate that we are in, the decision of the MDA must be respected. Things can be blown out of proportion," he said.

Ms Kavitah Jayanandan, 36, who owns a video production company and worked on Porn Masala as first assistant director, thought that the lines were sharp and funny.

While she understood that in the current climate of racial sensitivity, some kind of action had to be taken, she felt that the authorities could have tried a softer approach - such as advising the producers to postpone the release of the film, or opting for private screenings rather than a theatrical run.

Porn Masala won an Audience Choice Award (Short Film) at the Gotham Screen Film Festival in New York last year. It was also selected for the India International Film Festival in Tampa Bay, Florida, in February this year.

Lawyer Valerie Ong, 40, watched the film during the invite-only premiere last Friday. "It has won accolades around the world, and now it is a shame that people can't see it," she said.

But Ms Ng of the Films Consultative Panel pointed out that the door is open for the film to be submitted for re-classification.

"In future, perhaps community standards will have changed.

"The panel then might think that society will have matured, and the decision might be reversed," she said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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