Yawning Bread. 9 November 2009

Film censorship correspondence, part 2




In the article Film censorship correspondence, part 1, the story left off with my email letter dated 14 September 2009 to the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts.

In a nutshell, my letter asked firstly, why brief text telling the audience what has been excised is not allowed, and secondly, why information about censorship guidelines are not publicly available.

A month later, Julia Hang, the ministry's Director of Corporate Communications and Press Secretary to the Minister, replied with a short note, saying that there was nothing at all wrong with how the Board of Film Censors comported themselves.

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15 October 2009
Email to me from Julia Hang of MICA

Dear Mr Au

With regards to the issues that you have raised, we have clarified with the Board of Film Censors (BFC) and confirmed that their processes are in order and have been applied appropriately. We have asked the BFC to explain the process to you and they will be replying to you shortly.

Regards Julia

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A week after that, the follow-up email came. At various points in this email you will see that I have inserted [Comment] notations. My comments are expanded below.

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22 October 2009
Email to me from Amy Chua, Board of Film Censors

Dear Mr Au

This is a follow up response to MICA's reply to you dated 15 Oct 2009.

2.  In your email you asked why the version of the film "Devotee" with edits and insertions of word text was rejected by the Board of Film Censors (BFC). We would like to take this opportunity to explain to you the film classification process and what is expected of film distributors when edits to films are required.

3.  When a film is submitted, the BFC will assess the film according to the film classification guidelines. If the content of the film is within the classification guidelines, the film is given the appropriate rating and returned to the distributor. However, if the film exceeds the classification guidelines, the BFC will require the distributor to make the required edits. Once the distributor has made the necessary edits, the BFC will review the edited version, classify the film and then return it to the distributor.

4.  In the case of "Devotee", which was submitted on 23 July 2009, the BFC had assessed that three sequences in the film had gone beyond the classification guidelines. One sequence involved an explicit homosexual scene [See comment A]. As such, the BFC required that excisions be done to the three sequences so that the film could be approved for exhibition. The decision was reflected in the online film database on 4 August 2009 and conveyed to you verbally on 6 August 2009.

5.  When the film was re-submitted on 11 August 2009, although the edits had been made, you had also inserted black frames at three junctures in the film where edits had been made, with words describing the scenes that were removed. This went beyond what the BFC required.

6.  Under section 15 (1) of the Films Act, after a film has been submitted for the purpose of censorship, the Board may 'approve the film for exhibition with such alterations or excisions as it may require'. [See Comment B] In this case, you went beyond the required excisions.

7.  You were asked to re-edit the film, and your friends re-submitted the film on 14 August 2009, the day of the film's exhibition. The BFC rushed to classify the film in time for the exhibition. However, we would like to remind you that films should be submitted at least 1 month before exhibition . We received 'Devotee' only 3 weeks before exhibition and during this period much time was spent on clarifications. While the BFC will endeavour to clear submissions in time for exhibition, there are possibilities for complications to arise, so we request that you submit films as early as you can.

8.  As for the film classification guidelines, there may have been some misunderstanding. We would like to clarify that the guidelines were never made available on the website. The BFC has made available its guidelines to all commercial film and video companies because they exhibit and distribute films/videos on a regular basis. [See Comment C]

Yours sincerely

Amy Chua 
Chairman, Board of Film Censors

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Comment A:

I love the phrase "explicit homosexual scene". Readers might imagine erect penises, dangling balls and breathing sphincters. Of course, such scenes had to be cut! You might say.

Now, allow me to let you in on a little secret. The film Devotee had no frontal nudity at all. There was not a single cock to be seen. The lovemaking scene was entirely suggested by the relative positions of the two men's bodies, the way many heterosexual love scenes are suggested by a couple going into embrace followed by the man getting into a missionary position -- but we neither see his equipment nor hers.

Here was not a case of censoring "explicit" scenes. Here was a case of censoring the very thought/suggestion that two men were engaged in sex. This is not visual control, but thought control.

Comment B:

This reply in effect says that what is to be censored is not based on any prepared rules; it is based on whatever the censors say has to be censored. It is not governance according to rules, but governance according to officials' whim. This is their answer to why even text could not be allowed: Because their whim said not.

Comment C:

To my question why guidelines are not publicly available, their answer: They are not publicly available.

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I thought long and hard about what I should say in response, but in the end, I felt it would make very little sense to bang one's head on a brick wall, writing an email back. In any case, I think it is apparent enough to readers that ultimately, the authorities' response is not of reason, but essentially one of folding their arms and saying: "Because we said so."

Yawning Bread