Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Books at the Oscars, Censorship by Astro



Now where would Hollywood be without novelists to dream the dream first?

I'm longing to see Slumdog Millionaire which swept the Oscar's yesterday. It's based (as if you didn't know!) on Vikas Swarup's novel, which was originally called Q&A.

In this interview with Alison Flood, which appeared a few days ago in The Guardian, Swarup describes his reactions to the film and describes how the novel was written.

It was born ... not "from Mumbai's meanest streets" but in "London's rather more genteel Golders Green" while Swarup was working as a diplomat for the Indian high commission in 2003.

His family left to go back to India early, and he had just two months before he returned himself :
After they had gone, I thought: 'Now is the time to write the novel.' But I'm not one of those writers who wants to spend four pages describing a sunrise. There are so many of them in India. I'm a sucker for thrillers and I wanted to write one. I'm much more influenced by Alastair MacLean and James Hadley Chase. I'm no Arundhati Roy."
and knew that he had to complete the novel withing that timeframe because he was due to take up a demanding new post :
He wrote quickly - one productive weekend yielded 20,000 words.
Gulp!

And he struck gold when his agent managed to negotiate a six-figure two-book deal :
I am the luckiest novelist in the world. I was a first-time novelist who wasn't awash in rejection slips, whose manuscript didn't disappear in slush piles. I have had a wonderful time.
Kate Winslet won best actress for her role in The Reader, and Bernhard's Schlink's novel on which it is based is one that made a deep impression on me. (I loved it so much - read it twice - that I am actually afraid of seeing the film.)

I mentioned F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button the other day. Now, according to Singapore's Straits Times it has encouraged girls to go looking for the book that has the lovely Brad Pitt in it! The Hollywood knock-on effect is great for encouraging reading.

The film Milk was based on The Mayor of Castro by Randy Shilts and is the story of the 70's gay activist Harvey Milk.

I didn't see the Oscar ceremony (forgot! duh!) but was horrified to hear this from Pang, via Facebook, and I reproduce it here at length because this kind of censorship is unacceptable :
I want to thank Astro* for screening this year's Oscars, which gave us the very heartwarming wins by the screenwriter and the lead actor of the movie "Milk". Congratulations too to the movie "Milk", about the first openly gay man elected to public office in California who was then assassinated, for winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. The acceptance speeches by screenwriter Justin Lance Black and actor Sean Penn were both moving, bold and timely. They spoke up about the need for equal rights, to love, to share this land, and to be heard. This year, the Oscars celebrated the kind of diversity that the arts is able to champion; it's the kind of diversity that desperately needs championing in a world so overwhelmed by racism, war, and hatred.

This is part of Justin's speech:

"When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married. I wanna I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk."

And this is Sean's:

"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone," said Penn.

However, if you caught the Oscars on Astro, you would have noticed something so bizarre almost to be ironic. The words "gay" and "lesbian" have been censored from both these speeches. For me, this act of censorship defeated the very victory won by these two men. The two moments of silence rang out like the gun shots that killed Harvey Milk.

We live in a time when understanding is needed, when artists need to be bold in addressing the manifold injustices of the world. Hence, such a movie had to be made, such acceptance speeches to be uttered. But by its act of censorship, Astro has sent a message to all Malaysians that gays and lesbians are still shameful things to be censored from the public's ears. As a gay man, I am truly offended. After all these years of contributing to the country through my work, of helping people regardless of their orientation, being proud of who I am and helping others be proud of who they are, I can assure you that the only thing wrong is how much hate gays have to endure simply for the way we love.

What is Astro trying to achieve with the censoring of the words "gay" and "lesbian"? Do they think these words will promote homosexuality? Let me assure you that homosexuality cannot be promoted, it just happens. Just as a person's sexuality becomes apparent to him or her when the hormones kick in in the teen years; you don't need sex promoted to you by the TV, your body does its own promotion.

Meanwhile, words like "terrorist", "rapist" and "murderer" gets passed and nobody gets their panties knotted over how these words might promote terrorism, rapes and murders. On the other hand, words like "gays" and "lesbians" that describe people among us who happen love the same sex get treated like it is a crime to even mention in public. Is Astro promoting hate over love? Just what kind of society does Astro want to be creating? One where people can talk about terrorism but not love?

You want to know what breeds social ills? It is the kind of insecurity and low self esteem that results from such continual shaming through the media, that then leads to machismo, violence, bullying, and other superficial ways with which men employ to compensate for their insecurity.

Does Astro not know that many of its own staff are gay? I won't name them, but trust me, I know many of them (and I congratulate Astro for smartly tapping into such a pool of talents). But is Astro now ashamed of its many talented gay and lesbian staff?

And does Astro not know too that a huge number of its viewers are gay and lesbian? Otherwise, why bother to screen "Brothers & Sisters", "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", "Six Feet Under" and other popular TV series that show how gays and lesbians are not only part of society but play vital roles in shaping that society for the better? Is Astro ashamed of its gay and lesbian viewers? And if this is some national guideline, then Astro needs to question it if it hopes to be fair to its viewers.

Stop censoring the words that describe who I am. I am a Malaysian. I work hard for the right to be here, and I work hard for the right to love, just like everyone else. Thank you.

Pang Khee Teik
If you feel strongly enough about this, please do contact local news papers and you can share your comments with Astro here.

Postscript :

Sir Salman is not at all impressed with the book adaptations ...

Postscript 2 (26/2/08) :

*I'm grateful to Syukran for pointing out that it was STAR and not ASTRO that censored the words, and for providing this link.

28 comments:

Alice Teh said...

I'm so looking forward to reading Slumdog Millionaire a copy I've just gotten from MPH today. I'm waiting for The Reader to arrive from Acmabooks. Yes... I ordered from various sources for the best bargains...

glenda larke said...

Thank you, Pang, for a lovely piece of heartfelt writing, and for pointing out this bit of appalling bigotry. Continue to stand proud; there are lots of us heteros who are proud of you too.

Anonymous said...

Even my Ah Beng DVD pirate is more gay friendly and liberal than fucking ASS-TRO. Ah Beng stocks his shop with tons of gay-friendly and gay-themed movies, TV series ('Queer As Folk" is truly groundbreaking, both UK and US versions)

- Poppadumdum

bibliobibuli said...

ASS-TRO - brill!

Chet said...

I just came out from watching Slumdog Millionaire at 1 Utama, and headed for MPH to get a copy.

Lots of tears and laughter for me watching this movie. Reminded me of Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay.

Anonymous said...

The book is totally different from the movie. Be warned! :-)

- Poppadumdum

bibliobibuli said...

didn't know it was on, chet ooooH

Chet said...

Some of the Oscar movies are at GSC in 1 Utama New Wing, including Benjamin Button and The Changeling. Not Frozen River, tho - that's the one I want to see, too. I actually met the lead actor, Melissa Leo, many years ago in New York City - we were both staying in the same apartment, me at the invite of my UCSD professor and she to visit her mother. Sorry for name dropping ... and no, no pictures to prove it.

Anonymous said...

My Ah Beng DVD pirate refers to Changeling as 'The Challenging'.."Got Angela Jolly one you know!"

:-)))

- Poppadumdum

Damyanti said...

Didn't watch Oscars, but now I wish I had!

KayKay said...

Vikas Swarup: " But I'm not one of those writers who wants to spend four pages describing a sunrise. There are so many of them in India. I'm a sucker for thrillers and I wanted to write one. I'm much more influenced by Alastair MacLean and James Hadley Chase. I'm no Arundhati Roy."

God! I love this guy..in a purely platonic, non ---- way, of course:-)

Anonymous said...

'And does Astro not know too that a huge number of its viewers are gay and lesbian?' A 'huge' number?Really? Goodness gracious me!

bibliobibuli said...

chet - if you can't drop a name here, where can you drop it

anon - so now you know :-P

Anonymous said...

No, I don't know. And since the population of Malaysia is forever burgeoning, I am reluctant to deign credence to it.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Swarup's book is quite homophobic as well.

- Poppadumdum

Yusuf Martin said...

Slumdog Millionaire was a good enough film, but how many realised that it was a pastiche of Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay and The Silver Castle by Clive James?

Good enough idea but had been done before, admittedly without A.R.Rahman's music.

Syukran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Syukran said...

Looks like it was STAR and not ASTRO that censored the words.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j_-uHZ_r-RTTCbM7nnKPNRFvoJBgD96IG23G0

bibliobibuli said...

thanks a lot, Syukran - i think it explains quite a lot. i'm glad that Pang and others took a stand and made the protest.

Anonymous said...

Jannie Poon is a major twat. Pang, keep up the good fight!

- Poppadumdum

Damyanti said...

I tend to agree with Yusuf Martin.

Also, it is ironic that A.R. Rahman won his Oscars for some of his more mediocre music. He has done a much better job numerous times for local cinema.

Anonymous said...

Sir Alec Guinness has been in many distinguished plays, but what does everyone remember him as? Obi Wan lol :)

Such is life. And I can relate. I'm a poor writer, and so have to live with people who have a strange dog. It likes to eat it's own poop and then rub it in my feet.

Slumdog millionaire has nothing on me :P

Anonymous said...

I agree, Jamie Poon's response is the most spineless, arse-licking piece of tripe I have come across recently. I really hope the backlash is harsh enough to show her what an idiot she's been. Satisfying your customers? Turns out, Jamie, your customers are not all buttoned-up, close-minded, straight idiots. You can choose to cater only to the buttoned-up, close-minded, straight idiots, but then you should be prepared to lose the business of the rest of us.

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

thrilled to see how far Pang's indignation has has travelled - even the film's screenwriter, Justin Lance Black has commented on the irony of the censorship!!

Anonymous said...

Preeta, I think it's Jannie...not Jamie
:-) Trust a Hongkie to take a silly name for herself.

If Star World is REALLY concerned for its viewers, it should stop showing low grade shite movies.

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Re Rushdie's comments: It's like the title of a kiddie book: The Salmon & The Slumdog! :-)

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

Oh wait.. their kind of censorship is unacceptable, but your kind of censorship is ? :)

I guess some kinds of censorship are less censorious than others :)

(Now I finally understand Animal Farm, it didn't make much sense to me at the time :) )

Anonymous said...

Oh, right, Jannie, not Jamie. Apologies to all unfairly maligned Jamie Poons out there :-) .

-- Preeta