Cinema Matters #4: Censors Are the Warmest People

April 2014
Cinema Matters #4: Censors Are the Warmest People

I believe that cinema matters.  This is a continuing series of my personal thoughts on film.  Every month a new topic.  In no more than 750 words.

I am embarrassed to be a Singaporean.  I walked past a movie poster at Orchard one night, and saw some tourists looking at it excitedly.  It was the poster for the Cannes Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Colour.  I am sure they were thrilled that they could see it here in Singapore.  But they won’t be excited to learn that the picture is released with a R21 rating with cuts. 

I have already written a bit about film censorship for a school module previously (see:, so this is an extension of how I feel about the state of things here.  I feel embarrassed for my country because at this day and age I still can’t see a movie uncut in the theaters.  They are forcing me to find alternative ways to watch movies that are cut.  They are making me curious as to which parts are cut.  They are making me analyze explicit scenes.  Well, I analyze scenes all the time, but not in this way. 

This year, two films that I have been especially looking forward to were eventually trimmed to meet standards of decency – Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, and Abdellatif Kechiche’s abovementioned award-winner.  These films are already slapped with a R21 rating, the most restrictive rating in the land, so butchering them makes no sense. 

It feels like the authorities are giving moviegoers the finger, implying that despite being 21 years or older, we remain immature and undiscerning viewers.  We need to be told what we can or cannot watch.  Being a film enthusiast and reviewer, I find this hard to stomach.  I detest this condescending attitude.  However, moviegoers are not defeatists by nature.  When they desire to watch a movie, they WILL watch it. 

It has always been one step forward, two steps back.  In 2007, when Lee Ang’s sexually explicit Lust, Caution was heavily cut for a NC16 rating, there was a public outcry.  It must have stung the ears of some people, because eventually it was re-released uncut with a R21 rating. 

In 2011, when Steve McQueen’s Shame tried for a release in theaters, the Board of Film Censors insisted an explicit scene has to be cut.  McQueen said no.  I like filmmakers who say no to authorities because they have integrity.  So Shame did not see light in Singapore, until the Singapore Film Society appealed to screen the movie uncut to their members only. 

As I said, it is always one step forward, two steps back.  The authorities need to learn how to walk properly, because at this rate they won’t get far, and would forever be taken to task by the public and film enthusiasts whenever another film gets censored for the wrong reasons.  And I stress ‘wrong reasons’, because as much as I am against film censorship, there are some films out there that ought to be censored for the right reasons.

On another note, the latest case with Blue Is the Warmest Colour reflects a deeper concern about the portrayal of homosexuality on the screen.  As a comparison, Lust, Caution which was similarly explicit but involved heterosexuals was released uncut.  Blue, on the other hand, could only be screened if a lengthy sexual scene between two lesbians was cut. 

Homosexuality has always been a touchy topic here – Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right (2010) was famously limited to just one hall at Cathay Orchard Cineleisure screening the title, because it felt to be normalizing homosexuality.  I believe in the next couple of years, we will reach a turning point as a country to face the issue of homosexuality directly, both reel and real. 

It is dangerous to judge then.  When we judge, we discriminate.  There needs to be clarity on how we want to move forward as a country – no step backwards would be a good start.  If anything, queer cinema will become increasingly important in helping us to understand such issues with an open mind and heart, for I have always believed that reality and reel-ity are one and the same, mirroring one another's concerns and hopes in a single looking glass.

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