The outcry over the decision to deny Best Film recognition to “Ola Bola” and “Jagat” in the Festival Filem Malaysia (FFM) awards this year highlights the disconnect between local artistes and the government agencies that are supposed to promote them.
The entertainment industry has indeed been choked off and held back by government policies, as seen, for instance, in the police decision to force an “acceptable” ending to the Rajinikanth vehicle “Kabali”.
Already, actor and director Afdlin Shauki has vowed not to attend this year’s FFM because of the decision to overlook “Ola Bola” and “Jagat”, and he’s getting loud support from the industry. Certainly, the FFM will still pull an attendance, but Afdlin’s move is inspiring other auteurs to take a stand against the segregation of films by language, which reinforces racial lines within the industry.
As Afdlin says, segregating films by language in an industry that produces as little as 30 films a year is patently ridiculous.
The exclusion of “Ola Bola”, in particular, is a sore point for Malaysians. The film, which chronicles the multiracial Malaysian football team that got into the 1980 Moscow Olympics, is touted as the fifth highest earning Malaysian film in history. It is lauded for its authentic portrayal of Malaysian behaviour and speaking habits. Its portrayal of natural Malaysian accents and mannerisms, unfettered by artificial constraints on dialogue, proved to be a large selling point. Malaysians could identify with the characters.
The Malaysian Film Producers Association (PFM), in its vague quest to “uphold the national language”, is stunting the local movie scene once again, forcing film makers to present an inauthentic Malaysia. Perhaps that’s the precise reason that a film that genuinely connects to its audience like Ola Bola has become such a huge cultural phenomenon. In fact, the PFM’s decision, based as it is on an idea that the “best” can be gated off with imaginary barriers, can be considered the antithesis of Ola Bola’s message.
As more people add their voice to Afdlin’s protest, perhaps the time has come for PFM to understand the frustrations of the people it purports to represent.
While a new golden era of television is dawning in the west, Malaysian TV and film have regressed to shocking lows, as evidenced by the horrendously racist portrayal of African American R&B superstar Usher as a Malay man in blackface by ERA FM’s #meleTOP division.
The Malaysian film industry will not realise its true potential until the antiquated rules that hold it back are finally repealed.