Film censorship correspondence, part 2

After a month, Amy Chua, chair of the Board of Film Censors, replied to my queries over the film Devotee. Read and judge her reply for yourself. Full essay.

9 Responses to “Film censorship correspondence, part 2”

  1. 1 dyno 9 November 2009 at 21:23

    how long must we be treated like children?

  2. 3 Anders 10 November 2009 at 01:22

    dyno: Probably as long as you keep voting the same guys into power.

  3. 4 currypuff 10 November 2009 at 23:15

    Hi Alex,
    I worked in a Japanese book store many years ago.
    I would like to share with you my experience with the censorship board.
    Apparently, they have different departments dealing with reading materials in different languages.
    I worked in the Japanese books section.
    On the day books or magazine were delivered to my store, a staff has to bring a copy to the board for vetting(usually just magazine and manga comics, because these contain pictures).
    There was one official in charge of Japanese material (a lady in my time). She would flip through the samples and note down the pages she deemed objectionable. For magazine and manga periodicals, these pages will be removed before they are allowed to be put on sale. For comics in ‘book’ form, the whole volume was banned from release.
    No consideration was given to how this would affect the coherency of the story. You can imagine how a story will become mangled when some pages suddenly went missing in the middle. We also had many cases of manga books “losing” one or two volumes of a series because a page or two showing a drawing of a breast or a sexual act.
    An example would be the popular comic “GTO”. One volume was not allowed for sale because of A SINGLE DRAWING of some middle-age teachers in a bar having sex with waitresses. The thing is, the drawing was not meant to be sexually provocative. It was to illustrate the hypocritical nature of some teachers who lamented the decline of morals in their students, yet have no qualms visiting sex bars after office hours.
    So the context of the drawing was about society and not the sex act itself. But apparently, that did not matter to the censor.
    One can only imagine the fustration of readers following the series.

    Back to my point, this was before the internet became widespread and the rules were pretty strict. For example, any hints of homosexual acts, like a drawing of two fully-clothed male or female kissing, were disallowed.
    At the same time, some guidelines were pretty strange. According to the lady censor, the showing of a human body was allowed as long as it was behind some form of ‘cover’. So we sometimes had pictures of women in a wet shirt or see-through dress, which showed the breasts pretty clearly, passed the inspection.
    At other times, it was pretty much according to her discretion. One example I remembered was a magazine which featured Japanese actress Harumi Inoue. At that time, she shaved her head and published a pictorial book of herself. In that magazine, there was a few pages of her in the nude, with some even showing a little pubic hair.
    When the censor looked through the photos, she declared “No problem!”
    Huh? I was pretty stunned. Aren’t these nude pictures, I asked.
    She is BALD, so this is art, not pornography, confirmed the censor.
    So you see, although there were guidelines, sometimes it came down to the attitude of a single official and his/her ‘mood’ for the day.

    However, to be fair, despite the odd instance or two, most times she and her stand-in were pretty consistent, almost to a fault.
    They tend to adopt a play it safe attitude and would censor material regardless of context, or those of a pretty mild nature, rather than risk having some overly protective parents or self-righteous zealots file a complaint to the board.

    Being a liberal who just returned from Japan, I often felt incredulous. But as a representative of my store, I wouldn’t dispute her decision for fear of putting us in her bad books. Even my Japanese boss, who often commented that Singapore society will never mature as long as such draconian censorship rules exist, would put on his best behaviour in her presence, as would our competitor, I am sure. It boiled down to economics. It’s bad business to antagonize those in positions of authority.

    Anyway, our censors are not used to being challenged. They are used to having the final say and no one would dare to (or would rather not) raise any awkward questions. Any wonder at their condescending attitude towards you? Their upper management must have been fuming mad. Who does this Alex guy think he is?

    I believe this is representative of the attitude of the government as a whole.
    We pick, you accept. We decide, you obey.


  4. 5 papanon 10 November 2009 at 23:31

    Because I said so
    Because they said so
    Because the pap said so

  5. 6 Larry 12 November 2009 at 01:23


    MDA appoints Leo Burnett for media classification drive in Singapore
    by Kenny Lim 10-Nov-09, 11:52

    | MDA | Government | media | Singapore | Advertising | Leo Burnett | Education |

    SINGAPORE – The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) has appointed Leo Burnett to oversee and implement an integrated public education campaign for media classification.

    The MDA currently categorises and classifies a wide range of content across various media including films, videos and video games in the city-state.

    Aimed at parents, educators and students, the three-month campaign is slated for mid-November until mid-February 2010 to tie in with the school holidays and festive season.

    As part of the MDA’s efforts to educate the public on media classification, the campaign will generate public awareness on media classification and its value to society and would include media and PR events, consumer activities, outdoor publicity as well as social media initiatives.

    The MDA recently launched tenders for agencies to promote the Singapore Media Fusion brand overseas and to promote public service broadcasts.

  6. 7 Sun Koh 12 November 2009 at 09:06

    currypuff, thank you for sharing your experience with the censors and insights on their practice. It’s an invaluable resource for documentation.

  7. 8 Desmond 15 November 2009 at 10:25

    Alex, did you really expert anything different from them? Our ministries have the same attitude as our gahmen, “I said it is so, so therefore it is.” Explanations be damned.

  8. 9 yawningbread 15 November 2009 at 10:31


    The purpose of writing is not only to tell people about the unexpected. It is just as important to document the expected, because unless something is documented, one can argue it does not exist. What I want to do by example is to encourage Singaporeans to get into the mode of documentation. Do not just shrug your shoulders and say “That’s life”. Even if you cannot reverse an injustice or absurdity, document it. Documentation shines a light on it. With time, the cumulative lights switched on become glaring.

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