Freedom Film Network (FFN) co-founder, Anna Har is calling for Malaysia’s Home Ministry to publicly explain the basis for the sudden ban on local film, Mentega Terbang.
In reaction to the recent ban announcement, Anna characterised the timing of the move as “strange” since the film, Mentega Terbang, had not applied to be screened in local cinemas through the Malaysian Film Censorship Board (LPF) and had been removed from Hong Kong-based over-the-top video streaming provider, Viu since March 2023.
“The question is why now? According to the gazette, the film is ‘contrary to public interest throughout Malaysia’. But what is the evidence or data that can back up the decision to ban the film?
“It is important for the ministry to be transparent and accountable for their decisions,” Anna said to Eksentrika.
She pointed out that filmmakers and art practitioners would benefit from a clear and explicit guideline with regard to the reasons behind censorship decisions.
“At this point, we are unclear what criteria led to the banning of Mentega Terbang.
“Was this decision based on legitimate research such as a focus group study or a subjective decision made by certain individuals or parties?
“Filmmakers and content creators have a right to know and be informed.”
Anna added that filmmakers in Malaysia should be able to express themselves in a safe environment and not be subjected to violence or harm for telling stories that are authentic to them.
“It hardly seems reasonable that the responsibility for an entire nation’s security falls squarely on the shoulders of one or two locally produced films?”
Meanwhile, FFN Campaign and Strategy lead Deborah Augustin said the sudden ban announcement on Mentega Terbang would likely lead to the public seeking alternative ways to watch the film, such as via a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
“It’s not difficult nor unheard of to watch banned films via VPN. Although the film (Mentega Terbang) has been taken down from the streaming service, there are pirated versions of it floating around (on the internet), so a ban is not an effective way to prevent people from seeing it.
“It is the ministry’s role to educate the public about what is considered as “harmful content.” and not resort to attacking filmmakers for their point of view,” said Deborah.
FFN is a non-profit organization in Malaysia that has been supporting and promoting social documentary filmmaking for the last 20 years.
Eksentrika has attempted to reach the Home Minister for comment via calls and text messaging, however, at press time, no answer has yet been received. Attempts to contact Mentega Terbang director, Khairi Anwar also did not receive a response.
Mentega Terbang is an independent film by director, Khairi Anwar. The one-hour and 44-minute film explores the story of a Muslim teenager, Aisyah, who sought answers from various religions in attempting to deal with her mother’s imminent death.
The film was first screened on November 28, 2021, at the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival 2021 and premiered on Viu in January 2023. The title of the film is a play on the word “butterfly” in Malay.
The controversy surrounding the film began in February 2023, with social media outrage by Muslim conservatives, leading to calls for authorities to intervene in the public viewing of the film and police reports by incensed parties.
It is however understood that Mentega Terbang was not slated for cinema screenings in Malaysia and had not applied for licensing through LPF.
Threats and attacks to the cast and crew of Mentega Terbang culminated in director, Khairi and actor, Arjun Thanaraju, who starred in the film, having had their cars vandalised with paint and a corrosive substance on March 16.
Based on FFN’s analysis according to the United Nation’s Rabat Plan of Action, the initial Facebook posts that were critical of Mentega Terbang could be constituted as incitement to harm.
On February 25, Zabidi Mohamed, a conservative scriptwriter and former Al-Arqam follower, posted on Facebook, to allege that Mentega Terbang was blasphemous to Islam and subsequently posted more than 40 times, with some posts inciting violence.
Zabidi’s posts gained traction among conservative influencers, including the President of WAFIQ, Rafidah Hanim, and Malaysian rapper, Caprice.
As a result, Mentega Terbang was pulled down from Viu on February 27. It was reported that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) had contacted Viu regarding the film, although MCMC had no jurisdiction to censor movies and television dramas on streaming platforms as per Section 3(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998.
As of 8 September, in attending FFN’s inaugural Film & Society conference in Kuala Lumpur, Khairi shared that at least one member of his film crew is still slated to have meetings with the Malaysian religious authorities due to their participation in Mentega Terbang.
Cover image sourced from Anamolist Production.