Here is the film Boy (2008), by Filipino filmmaker Auraeus Solito. It had been selected for inclusion in Singapore’s 2009 International Film Festival but was one of two festival films banned by the Media Development Authority (MDA), the Orwellian-named department of censorship. Do note, it’s 1 hour 19 minutes long.
The other banned film was Brides Of Allah (Shahida).
In a letter explaining the ban on Boy, the MDA said,
The film includes a prolonged and explicit homosexual love-making sequence between the teenager and the dancer.
The panel was also consulted about the film. Members felt that the film normalised homosexuality and that the homosexual scene was prolonged and explicit and filmed in a romanticised manner. The panel chairman, Mr Vijay Chandran, observed that ‘the homosexual love-making scene has exceeded the guidelines and the board, by allowing it, will shift the markers set by the community’.
– Letter by Amy Chua, Chairman of Board of Film Censors, published in the Straits Times’ forum, 11 April 2009.
Now you can watch the film and judge for yourself. Firstly, while the love-making sequence may be “prolonged”, is it “explicit”? Would a heterosex scene of similar nature and length be allowed? If yes, then by allowing a heterosex scene of similar nature and length but not allowing a homosexual scene, would it not be discrimination?
In any case, what about freedom of expression? So what if it is prolonged and even explicit? We have a right to it.
Boy was shown in multiple film festivals around the world. Normally eager to be “World class”, Singapore decided to reject this aspiration in this instance by getting all hot and bothered about homosexuality, banning it. However, if you ask the MDA whether they ban films, they will deny it. They will tell you that Boy was only refused a classification. But since any film that is unrated cannot be screened in Singapore — in fact it is illegal to possess one — is that not the same as “ban”? Engaging in Orwellian-speak (a.k.a. lying), I suppose, is what Orwellian-named government departments do.
Actually, we should just shut down the film censorship unit and save taxpayers some money. Films are increasingly available on the internet nowadays, like this very example.
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Personally, I don’t think Boy is that fantastic. Certainly, it is a cut above most films of the macho dancer genre that the Philippines has produced since the 1980s. It was an especial relief not to be clobbered by a moralistic ending like many earlier films of this genre. However, Boy’s storyline is rather thin, the scenes shift a bit too abruptly, and the actors are all rather stiff.
It was clearly meant to be a languid movie, but even so, I couldn’t help concluding that “languid” was just another way of saying “voyeuristic”. The macho dancing and bed scenes were unusually lengthy. While I agree with the assessment of “prolonged”, I still stand by my Freedom of Expression right (which includes Freedom to Access Information) to view it. “Prolonged” is no reason to ban it.
What I thought was rather risible was the contrived way in which the main character was given the hobby of collecting fish and aquariums. It doesn’t gel with his other hobbies of collecting comic books and action figures, nor his passion for creative writing. It’s almost as if the director had wanted at the outset to film the bedroom scene through glass and cloudy water, and consequently imposed the hobby on his main character to provide for his lens filters.
Nonetheless, the film is interesting in the rather effective way it conveys something quite unrelated to the subject of homosexuality: the subject of class. It works very well this way. We have a middle-class boy, perhaps 18 years old, choosing to explore his sexuality by buying sexual services from a young man a little older than himself. The scenes contrasting their relative lodgings were well done (and very realistic). In addition, the director deftly wove in the contrast between an absent father in the case of the middle-class boy — but one who has the means to support two families financially — and a present, caring, but economically struggling, father in the case of the macho dancer.
One hoped for more from this side of the narrative. What did the macho dancer’s father think of his son’s job? What does the boy’s mother think of her son’s sexuality? What exactly goes on inside the macho dancer’s head as he is bought by a client younger than him? Alas, unsatisfied questions.
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At the end of this article is another film about young men. Titled Cowboys and Angels (2003), by David Gleeson (Ireland). It’s of a similar length (1 hour 25 minutes), yet with a meatier storyline. It’s a far better film, stronger in character development. But it’s also — and that’s what’s particularly interesting about it — a sort of “post-gay” film. Certain characters in it are gay, but the story uses their sexuality no more, no less, than the fact that certain characters are straight.
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Despite the convenience of watching films from the internet, a darkened cinema with a large screen has its advantages too. Unfortunately, I think cinema operators, in their search for extra revenue, is spoiling the experience. I hate being at the receiving end of strong food smells. A woman in the row in front of me had soda spilled onto her by the clumsy stranger carrying too much food and drink trying to settle into the seat beside hers. The crunching of popcorn totally destroys important quiet moments in a movie.
But now we may have the coup de grâce.
Whose stupid idea is it to screen juvenile shorts propagandising Civil Defence or National Service before every film? Cinema operators should realise they are assaulting their paying customers by this move!
I once thought it was a relief that in Singapore we didn’t play the National Anthem like some other countries around the region, demanding that the audience stand to attention. But look how we have outdone them now!