Before a film can be released in Malaysia, it must first go through the Malaysian Film Censorship Board. During this process, the board can demand cuts to parts it deems to be unsuitable for Malaysian audiences and, if necessary, can stop the film from being released at all.
Most recently, the Pixar animated movie “Lightyear”, which was slated for release this month, ended up being pulled from screens. At the time of writing, no official statement has been issued by the censorship board, but the film’s depiction of a same-sex couple is the likely cause.
It has also been reported that Disney opposes cuts in its films, preferring for a feature to be screened in its entirety or not at all.
This, of course, is hardly the first time a movie has been blocked from the local silver screen. Here are just a handful of titles that never got to play in Malaysian cinemas, for various reasons.
1. ‘Zoolander’ (2001)
A 2001 American comedy starring comedian Ben Stiller, this film was a satirical take on the fashion industry, with the titular character being a dim-witted supermodel.
The film revolved around Zoolander being brainwashed into killing a fictional Malaysian prime minister who was threatening the fashion industry with minimum-wage plans.
Although the prime minister is not actually killed in the film, the story proved controversial enough for the movie not to be released locally.
It also did not help that the Malaysia in “Zoolander” is depicted as an impoverished nation where sweatshops are commonplace.
A media report at the time quoted a censorship board spokesperson as saying the plot was “definitely unsuitable” for Malaysian audiences.
2. ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’ (1979)
In the Anglosphere, the works of British comedy troupe Monty Python have long been crowned as comedy classics, with their memorable gags and jokes still relevant today.
However, one of their early films was embroiled in no small amount of controversy, thanks to its characters and plot.
“Life of Brian” centres around the titular Brian, a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth who ends up being mistaken as a messiah, much to his annoyance.
Even though Jesus himself is shown briefly and depicted respectably, the themes of the film proved controversial enough among religious groups.
In countries like Ireland, Norway, Italy and Malaysia, “Life of Brian” never reached theatres, largely due to concerns of blasphemous content.
3. ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)
Based on the true story of a German industrialist who saved over a thousand lives during the Holocaust, “Schindler’s List” is an award-winning film by Steven Spielberg.
Malaysian audiences, however, never got to see it on the big screen. When queried, then information minister Mohamed Rahmat said: “I don’t think Malaysians will lose out if they don’t get to see ‘Schindler’s List’.”
The censorship board’s response to the film distributor called it “propaganda with the purpose of asking for sympathy”.
The ban was lifted in 1994, with a heavily censored DVD version finally releasing a decade later.
4. ‘Babe’ (1995)
A comedy-drama produced by George Miller, who would later direct “Happy Feet” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”, was a light-hearted flick featuring talking animals.
Unfortunately, the titular character, a piglet, proved to be the reason behind the banning of the film in Malaysia – to “avoid upsetting local sensitivities”.
The following year, though, the ban was overturned after an appeal by Universal Pictures, and it eventually received a direct-to-video release.
5. ‘The Prince of Egypt’ (1998)
Considered by many to be an animated masterpiece, “The Prince of Egypt” was a cinematic retelling of the Biblical story of Moses.
But the film also courted controversy, with many countries in the Islamic world disallowing its release due to concerns largely stemming from the fact that Moses, a prophet in Islam, is depicted visually – a religious taboo.
At the time, censorship board chairman Lukeman Saaid said: “We found it insensitive for religious and moral reasons. Because of the many races in Malaysia, religion is a very sensitive issue.”
6. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)
Directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the memoir by stockbroker Jordan Belfort, “The Wolf of Wall Street” was controversial from the start.
In addition to ethically questionable characters, the film features extreme profanity, sexual content, and depictions of hard drug use (never mind the eventual 1MDB embroilment).
Yet it remains a financial and critical success, with Leonardo DiCaprio winning a Golden Globe for his performance as Belfort.
For all its accolades, the film never hit local cinemas, with distributors figuring it would never pass the censorship board anyway.