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Film on Malaysia sparks uproar

Shuhaimi says she wanted to highlight the relationship between Malaysia's second PM and his deputy. One scene shows (above) Tun Ismail Abdul Rahman (played by Zizan Nin), Tunku Abdul Rahman (Kamarulzaman Taib) and Tun Abdul Razak (Rusdi Ramli) discussing Tunku Abdul Rahman's resignation. Photo courtesy of Shuhaimi Baba

Publication Date : 02-08-2012


Reaction to the depiction of 1969 race riots underscores sensitivities


When filmmaker Shuhaimi Baba first conceptualised a film about Malaysia's second prime minister and his deputy, she never imagined the firestorm it would ignite.

Her intention had been to highlight the relationship between the two men who she felt had seen the country through a difficult period in its history.

Instead, just one month before Tanda Putera is set to hit the cinemas, it has been overshadowed by the outcry over its depiction of Malaysia's 1969 race riots, underscoring the sensitivity that still surrounds one of the darkest chapters in the country's history.

"I hardly expected this reaction," she said. "It was very upsetting."

Although the film has yet to be released, a lot of anger - mostly from the Chinese community - has been directed towards the trailer that was released on YouTube last month. It contained several scenes of Chinese mobs fighting with Malays, and holding placards saying "Malays, go back to your village" and "Die, Malays".

Believing that the film is demonising their community and its role in the riots, some Chinese Malaysians have taken to the movie's Facebook page, labelling it "propaganda" and calling its producers "numbskulls".

What really happened during the 1969 race riots is still disputed. But the riots had their roots in the elections on May 10 that year, when the opposition made sweeping gains, then held large-scale processions in Kuala Lumpur. On May 13, Umno Youth members gathered in the Malay enclave of Kampung Baru. Violence broke out later that day in the capital. Nearly 200 people died.

Making matters worse for the movie, politicians and their supporters have jumped into the fray, giving a political spin to Tanda Putera.

Democratic Action Party (DAP) adviser Lim Kit Siang lashed out at Ms Shuhaimi for slandering his party - DAP flags can be seen in scenes involving Chinese mobs - while pro-Umno bloggers have called the film "touching" and "patriotic".

"Everyone knows that the DAP were the first to fan the flames of racism among the Chinese at the time," wrote a columnist in last Sunday's issue of Umno-owned Malay daily Utusan Malaysia.

Shuhaimi came up with the idea for the film in 2009. She said she had wanted to remind the younger generation about the struggles and sacrifices of Malaysia's pioneer leaders. Both Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and his deputy Tun Ismail Abdul Rahman died in office.

She said she spent a year researching - reading reports and looking through archive photos of the riots. "These scenes were not created by me. I based them on pictures that were captured in reports of the riots," she said, adding that the film also had scenes of Malay mobs attacking other races.

"Everyone told me this was taboo. But this is our history. There will be sensitive issues but we must be mature enough to confront them."

She received 4 million ringgit (US$1.2 million) in government grants for the 5-million ringgit (US$1.5 million) film. Only 15 minutes of the 115-minute film are devoted to the riots, she said.

Political analyst Ooi Kee Beng feels that Malaysians "have never been able to find closure" over the May 13 riots. "The violence of those days transformed Malaysian politics forever. The tensions brought to the fore then did not simply die away," he said. "A film that portrays May 13 is bound to cause great unease."

Although the film's release date is September 13, there is speculation that the premiere will be pushed back because of sensitivities.

Shuhaimi has denied this, saying the authorities merely want more time to promote the film.


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