Janice Koh: ‘Censorship process must be transparent’

Days before its official opening in cinemas here, the Media Development Authority (MDA) banned the Singapore film "Sex.Violence.FamilyValues."

It  features a collection of three short films – "Cartoons" which is about a kindergarten student who suddenly starts drawing morbid pictures; "The Bouncer", a “dramedy that puts an Asian twist on the teen dance movie” and "Porn Masala", a comedy about an amateur actor’s troubles caused by his role in Singapore’s first “arthouse porno”.

Read report: MDA bans Singapore film due to open this week

The news of the ban prompted Nominated Member-of-Parliament Janice Koh to weigh in on the matter via her Facebook page at about 2am today.

This is her Facebook post:

"Reposting my response to the recent ban of "Sex.Violence.FamilyValues", which I shared with TODAY news earlier today. I haven't seen the film and therefore can't write more fully on MDA's decision, but these are my initial thoughts for now.

On the role of art and satire

From what I understand, “Porn Masala” was meant to be a piece of satire. Through exaggeration, humour and parody, satire exposes our vices and human flaws. It is a form of social criticism. To take the film literally and only at face value is missing the point. To misunderstand the artistic intentions of the filmmaker, to ban the film without consideration of its context, sets new OB markers that sends a dangerous signal - that art must always 'play nice' and not raise questions or provoke us to think about our own human foibles - in this case, questioning our attitudes and preconceptions about race and racial stereotypes.

On MDA's decision

MDA needs to explain to the public the turnaround in their decision - why they deemed the film suitable for M18 viewing when the script was first submitted many months ago, and what instigated them to convene a consultative panel at the very last minute, which eventually led to the NAR rating. The censorship process must be transparent, otherwise we encourage a culture of fear that makes it inoperable for artists and the creative community to work in.

On whether there should be more guidelines, especially related to race

Sometimes, too many classification guidelines can be overly prescriptive. Not everything can be defined in black and white. Art and literature are subjective. In this instance, especially in a case where MDA had previously deemed the film as suitable for viewing, perhaps what is needed is some level of trust that our society is mature enough to watch the film and openly debate and discuss its merits or the issues amongst ourselves, without having to constantly depend on the government to play the 'parent' or 'gatekeeper' of our values and morals.

MDA should, at the very least, explain why it gave the M18 rating based on existing guidelines in the first place, identify the group of persons who had issues with the film, and clarify why they decided not to keep to their initial position. Who had seen this film prior to the film premiere and gave this negative 'feedback' to MDA?

If we can't be transparent and open in the negotiation of these boundaries, how do we go about building healthy and mature public discourse in Singapore?"



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