Film on 1969 Malaysia riots courts controversy

A government-backed film touching on one of the most sensitive episodes in Malaysian history has sparked fears it could stir racial tensions in the multi-ethnic nation as an election showdown looms.

Before even being released Tanda Putera ("Mark of Princes") has become a target of critics who say a film depicting race riots four decades ago that still haunt the country was irresponsible -- charges rejected by its director.

Several weeks of rioting broke out on May 13, 1969 between majority Malays and ethnic Chinese after an election setback for the Malay-dominated ruling alliance. Officially, 196 died, but many put the toll much higher.

The riots, popularly known by the date May 13, had a far-reaching impact.

It accelerated moves by the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to enshrine privileges for Malays that are resented by other groups, and a post-riot crackdown set the course for decades of authoritarian rule.

Even today, UMNO frequently evokes May 13 to warn against threatening the political status quo, which the multi-ethnic opposition calls racial fear-mongering.

Tanda Putera is the first feature film about an episode whose actual cause remains under debate, but its director Shuhaimi Baba defended the film.

"What is so controversial about it? Other countries have films about their own history without going to the dogs," she told AFP, saying critics should hold fire until seeing it.

Malay-language press reviews have praised the quality of the movie since a media-only screening July 18, and its backers say it focuses less on the riots than on relationships between top Malaysian leaders who dealt with it.

Many comments on the film's Facebook site called for Malaysians to have an open mind about the picture.

But in a sign of May 13's sensitivity, the Facebook site has been flooded with criticism by users who haven't even seen the film.

"I'm sorry but this movie is really instigating racism. How can the government approve something like this?" one comment said.

Some critics took exception to scenes of apparently provocative actions by the Chinese community shown in the film's trailer on YouTube, which earned 4,130 "dislikes" as of Wednesday against just 436 "likes".

A separate Facebook page has called for a boycott.

The official government view is that communists incited racial tensions, which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) further inflamed with a victory march through the capital Kuala Lumpur after May 10 polls.

Opponents of that interpretation, however, say a Malay elite led by then- deputy premier Abdul Razak Hussein orchestrated the unrest as a pretext to cement Malay control. Abdul Razak became prime minister in the aftermath.

A person involved in making the film told AFP it was "government propaganda" and includes beheadings by communists played by ethnic Chinese actors, and Chinese shouting "all Malays go and die."

"It only shows one side of what happened," the source said on condition of anonymity.

Half of the movie's RM4.5 million ($1.5 million) budget was supplied by the government-run National Film Development Corporation (Finas).

Malaysia is bracing for tough elections that Prime Minister Najib Razak -- Abdul Razak's son -- must call next year amid bitter divisions between the Malay ruling party and an opposition seeking to capitalise on growing public calls for change.

Abdul Razak is a key figure in the film, fueling online accusations it was meant to boost Najib ahead of the polls by glorifying his bloodline.

Finas had pushed back a September 13 release to year-end, saying more time was need to promote the picture, but its head, Naguib Razak (no relation to the prime minister), insisted the film would go ahead.

Others expressed fears the film would stir hatred by demonising Chinese and the opposition. The DAP is part of the opposition alliance.

May 13 is often evoked by UMNO to justify pro-Malay policies it insists are needed to placate Malays fearful of economic dominance by the Chinese minority.

Muslim Malays comprise about 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people. Chinese make up about one quarter but are over-represented in business.

Veteran Malaysian activist Kua Kia Soong, who wrote a 2007 book challenging the official verdict on May 13, said he had not seen the film but that UMNO typically stirs Malay fears when it faces a tight election.

"It unleashes another propaganda film or video or advert to frighten the people and to try to rally the Malay voters," he said.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • ISIS has not penetrated Phl – AFP
    ISIS has not penetrated Phl – AFP

    Security officials yesterday maintained that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has not penetrated the Philippines following an expert’s warning that the group poses a threat to the country. Abu Sayyaf, BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), private armed groups to our knowledge are the people making problems down south,” Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr. said. The BIFF and the Abu Sayyaf have pledged allegiance to the ISIS but it remains uncertain whether they are …

  • Cerbo named national police intel chief
    Cerbo named national police intel chief

    Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina yesterday ordered the appointment of PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. as chief of the Directorate for Intelligence. …

  • Pump prices up anew
    Pump prices up anew

    Oil companies announced yesterday another round of price hikes with independent oil firms among the first to issue their respective announcements. PTT Philippines, the local subsidiary of Thailand’s biggest oil firm, and Phoenix Petroleum Philippines, another independent oil company, were among the first to issue their respective advisories. Seaoil Philippines also issued its announcement. …

  • PNP to ease rules on gun permit processing
    PNP to ease rules on gun permit processing

    The Philippine National Police will simplify requirements for getting a firearm’s permit under the new gun control law, PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina said yesterday. Espina said they are working to simplify the process to secure a license to own and possess firearms (LTOPF) amid complaints of excessive requirements from gun holders. Espina directed the Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO) to make it easier for legitimate gun owners to comply with the …

  • Mercy for Mary Jane: Pacman joins appeals
    Mercy for Mary Jane: Pacman joins appeals

    World boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao took time out yesterday from final preparations for his $400-million megafight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. to plead for the life of a Filipina on death row in Indonesia. Pacquiao, a national hero in the Philippines, added his voice to a chorus of global opposition led by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the executions of a group of foreign drug convicts, including compatriot Mary Jane Veloso. The eight-division world champion, who will face …

  • Phl condoles as Nepal death toll hits 3,700
    Phl condoles as Nepal death toll hits 3,700

    Foreign rescue teams equipped with heavy cutting gear and relief supplies were landing round the clock at Nepal’s only international airport on the outskirts of Kathmandu, which has been devastated by Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake. “We need more helicopters for our rescue operations in rural areas,” said Nepal Home Affairs spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal. In a statement issued yesterday, Aquino said a team from the Philippine embassy in New Delhi, India would travel to Nepal to meet the needs …

  • Heat index to rise to 39.9ºC on Friday
    Heat index to rise to 39.9ºC on Friday

    People in Metro Manila should stay indoors on Friday, wear lightweight and light-colored clothing and drink plenty of water as the heat index – the temperature as felt by the human body – may reach 39.9 degrees Celsius on that day. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said this level of apparent temperature may cause heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. “Heat index is a human discomfort index that gives the apparent temperature, or …

  • Indonesia rebuffs last-ditch bids to delay drug-convict executions
    Indonesia rebuffs last-ditch bids to delay drug-convict executions

    By Kanupriya Kapoor and Jane Wardell CILACAP, Indonesia/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Indonesia said the execution of nine drug traffickers would go ahead this week, rebuffing last-minute appeals from Australia and the Philippines to spare their nationals and ignoring a decision by the Constitutional Court to hear a final challenge. Australia began the day with a plea for a stay in the execution of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, saying reports that their trial had been tainted by corruption needed to …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options