No cuts to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in Malaysia

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

A row over Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast has been resolved after a prolonged tug of war between Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board (LPF) and the studio. The tussle concerned the film’s openly gay character LeFou, the trusted sidekick of the main antagonist Gaston who secretly harbors amorous feelings for his master.

Beauty and the Beast had been initially approved by the LPF with a PG-13 (parental guidance for children under 13) rating and was to be released on March 16. However, just a couple of days before the scheduled premiere, the LPF announced the release date had been postponed, saying the film could not be screened unless “a brief gay moment” were removed from it. While initially confirming that its production was withheld for a “review of content,” Disney Studios later announced that the film “has not been and will not be cut,” effectively going at loggerheads with the censorship body. As it became increasingly uncertain whether Beauty and the Beast would be screened in Malaysia at all, local cinemas started refunding pre-ordered admission tickets and stopped their promotional activities.

The suspension sparked angry comments from film fans on social media and even Malaysia’s tourism minister Seri Nazri Aziz said a ban of the film would be “ridiculous.” "You don't ban a film because of a gay character. There are also gays in the world. I don't think [showing the offending scene] is going to influence anyone. We need to think, we must allow people to decide for themselves," he was quoted as saying in the local online newspaper Malay Mail.

However, the storm in a teacup subsided almost as quickly as it had emerged. On March 21, Disney Studios announced the movie would now be released on March 30 and that the film would be shown without any cuts. Local theatres confirmed the new date. “Beauty and the Beast has been approved without cut, maintaining the original PG-13 classification. It is set to be released at midnight of March 30 and [ticket] sales, promos and events have resumed at GSC since the confirmation,” Samantha Tan, a spokesperson for Malaysia’s largest cinema chain, Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC), told FJI.

In Muslim-majority Malaysia, homosexual activity is technically illegal under both secular and religious laws and subject to either a prison sentence or corporal punishment. Although it is not prohibited to depict homosexual characters in films or TV shows, they must generally be portrayed in a negative light or show willingness to “repent.”

50 Years in Jail for Thai Tourism Ex-Chief

Juthamas Siriwan, the former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), on March 30 was handed a 50-year prison sentence by Thailand’s Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases for demanding the equivalent of approximately $1.82 million in bribes from an American movie-producer couple in return for letting them host the now-defunct Bangkok International Film Festival (BKKIFF). Her daughter and co-defendant, Jittisopha Siriwan, received 44 years for collusion and hiding away the funds in various overseas bank accounts.

Juthamas was originally given 66 years—six years for each of the 11 counts on which she was indicted—but the sentence was reduced by the court to 50 years, the maximum allowed under Thai law. The court also ordered the duo’s illegally gained assets to be seized. Both women immediately applied for bail pending their appeal. But the Central Criminal Court referred the decision to the Court of Appeals, which denied the request, reasoning the defendants would pose a flight risk due to the severity of their sentences. The bribery case had been dragging on for years and public prosecutors only indicted the pair in August of 2015.

“[Juthamas and Jittisopha] colluded to avoid free competition [for running the BKKIFF] in favor of Gerald Green and Patricia Green,” the court said in its verdict, referring to the Los Angeles-based couple that had paid the bribes. The Greens were already sentenced in August 2010 by a federal judge in Los Angeles to serve six months’ imprisonment, another six months’ home confinement and a penalty of $250,000 each for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Now 70 years old, Juthamas had argued throughout her trial that she was not involved with any procurement for the film festival and thus would not have had the authority to select the actual organizer or host. Meanwhile, her 43-year-old daughter maintained that the $1.82 million deposited into her overseas bank accounts by the Greens between 2003 and 2006 were payments for her own business dealings with the U.S. couple and that her mother had nothing to do with it. However, financial documents obtained by Thai prosecutors from the U.S. court clearly identified Juthamas Siriwan as the de-facto recipient of the payments and also contained instructions that the funds should be deposited into the various accounts held by her daughter in Singapore, the U.K. and other countries.

Juthamas was TAT governor from 2002 until 2006 and had also served as BKKIFF president, which according to the judgment of the Thai court bestowed her with enough clout to select the Greens as festival hosts and organizers, helping them to generate about $13.5 million in profits from the lucrative film festival and its fringe events. Gerald Green, who died in July 2015 at age 83, is perhaps best known for having executive-produced the Vietnam War drama Rescue Dawn (2006).  

Chinese Films’ Impact Is Found Low in Neighboring Countries

While China’s filmmakers are rushing to tap the lucrative movie markets of North America and Europe, their movies are apparently not faring particularly well in neighboring countries. According to the Annual Report on the Global Influence of Chinese Cinema by the Beijing-based Academy for International Communication of Chinese Culture, an average of 28 percent of moviegoers surveyed across 16 countries surrounding China haven’t watched any Chinese film in 2016, while 41 percent said they only watched five or fewer Chinese productions. Only 6.9 percent visited their local cinemas for more than 20 films, while the remainder said they had seen between six and 19 Chinese flicks over the past year. The Academy based its report on questionnaires filled in by 1,500 movie fans across the 16 countries.

Audiences in East Asian nations seem to have the least appetite for Chinese film offerings. For example, in Japan the viewing average last year was only 1.21 Chinese pictures, while in South Korea it was 1.8, contrasting sharply with a much higher attendance in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, which typically have considerably larger ethnic Chinese communities among their local populations. For instance, the viewing average in Vietnam was 3.71 Chinese movies.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.