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What you didn't hear on the Oscars if you live in Malayasia

Posted by Ty Burr  February 25, 2009 10:56 AM

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The words "gay" and "lesbian," basically. When the Academy Awards were broadcast in Malaysia, the national satellite provider, Astro, bleeped those words from the acceptance speechs by "Milk" star Sean Penn and writer Dustin Lance Black. Because, you know, homosexuality only happens in America. The following public letter was forwarded to me by a friend who has lived in the country in the past and still has many connections there. It's written by Pang Kee Thaik, the curator of an arts center in Kuala Lumpur called The Annexe. Just a reminder that it's not free speech if the government and the media don't recognize the words exist.

I want to thank Astro for screening this year's Oscars, which gave us the very heartwarming wins by the screenwriter and the lead actor of the movie "Milk". Congratulations too to the movie "Milk", about the first openly gay man elected to public office in California who was then assassinated, for winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. The acceptance speeches by screenwriter Justin Lance Black and actor Sean Penn were both moving, bold and timely. They spoke up about the need for equal rights, to love, to share this land, and to be heard. This year, the Oscars celebrated the kind of diversity that the arts is able to champion; it's the kind of diversity that desperately needs championing in a world so overwhelmed by racism, war, and hatred.

This is part of Justin's speech:

"When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married. I wanna I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk."

And this is Sean's:

"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone," said Penn.

However, if you caught the Oscars on Astro, you would have noticed something so bizarre almost to be ironic. The words "gay" and "lesbian" have been censored from both these speeches. For me, this act of censorship defeated the very victory won by these two men. The two moments of silence rang out like the gun shots that killed Harvey Milk.

We live in a time when understanding is needed, when artists need to be bold in addressing the manifold injustices of the world. Hence, such a movie had to be made, such acceptance speeches to be uttered. But by its act of censorship, Astro has sent a message to all Malaysians that gays and lesbians are still shameful things to be censored from the public's ears. As a gay man, I am truly offended. After all these years of contributing to the country through my work, of helping people regardless of their orientation, being proud of who I am and helping others be proud of who they are, I can assure you that the only thing wrong is how much hate gays have to endure simply for the way we love.

What is Astro trying to achieve with the censoring of the words "gay" and "lesbian"? Do they think these words will promote homosexuality? Let me assure you that homosexuality cannot be promoted, it just happens. Just as a person's sexuality becomes apparent to him or her when the hormones kick in in the teen years; you don't need sex promoted to you by the TV, your body does its own promotion.

Meanwhile, words like "terrorist", "rapist" and "murderer" gets passed and nobody gets their panties knotted over how these words might promote terrorism, rapes and murders. On the other hand, words like "gays" and "lesbians" that describe people among us who happen love the same sex get treated like it is a crime to even mention in public. Is Astro promoting hate over love? Just what kind of society does Astro want to be creating? One where people can talk about terrorism but not love?

You want to know what breeds social ills? It is the kind of insecurity and low self esteem that results from such continual shaming through the media, that then leads to machismo, violence, bullying, and other superficial ways with which men employ to compensate for their insecurity.

Does Astro not know that many of its own staff are gay? I won't name them, but trust me, I know many of them (and I congratulate Astro for smartly tapping into such a pool of talents). But is Astro now ashamed of its many talented gay and lesbian staff?

And does Astro not know too that a huge number of its viewers are gay and lesbian? Otherwise, why bother to screen "Brothers & Sisters", "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", "Six Feet Under" and other popular TV series that show how gays and lesbians are not only part of society but play vital roles in shaping that society for the better? Is Astro ashamed of its gay and lesbian viewers? And if this is some national guideline, then Astro needs to question it if it hopes to be fair to its viewers.

Stop censoring the words that describe who I am. I am a Malaysian. I work hard for the right to be here, and I work hard for the right to love, just like everyone else. Thank you.

Pang Khee Teik

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11 comments so far...
  1. Shame on a country who is struggling to change its political landscape. We must continue to fight for our rightful existence.
    Bigotry exists everywhere even in USA... lets hope these speeches wake those religious groups who voted against Proposition8.
    We deserve what the rest of the society has!

    Posted by John Hughes February 26, 09 04:49 PM
  1. Who could not be moved--to emotion, to action--by the full text of those "acceptance" (yes, acceptance) speeches. And how truly brave and eloquent is Pang Khee Teik for speaking out without a podium or a shining gold award in his hands. I hope they all know how much these words, when tied to action, mean. And I hope Teik will remain safe. Enough hate, enough bleeping censorship.

    Posted by MFH February 26, 09 05:12 PM
  1. Malayasia needs a good dose of gay porn to set it straight!!!!

    Posted by pj1 February 26, 09 05:17 PM
  1. Hi Ty, I'm from Malaysia and I think your friend watched the repeat of the Oscars shown at night. I watched the live telecast and that one wasn't censored at all. Just want to point that out. Yes, Astro's intention was to censor it. But they still took the liberty to show it at least once. Astro always gives people a chance to watch it once. It's not just issues on gays and lesbians. Everything from super light kissing to semi-violence are censored during the repeats. Again, it's not just homosexual content. Malaysia is known for censoring pretty much everything remotely offensive in the eyes and ears of some :) That's our culture. We apologise if that comes across offensive.

    Posted by Amy February 26, 09 09:39 PM
  1. Who really cares abour that small uneducated country that has contributed nothing to the world but hate and ignorance. We don't really think about them, so why worry about their simple primitave existance, they may catch up to the rest of the world some day but then will still really be of no consequence.

    Posted by acmeon February 26, 09 11:55 PM
  1. I am Malaysian too and I was shocked to hear Dustin's and Sean's speech censored during the night encore on star movies. in the morning when it was streamed live via satellite, the censorship board had no ample time to censor it and i heard every single word that was said by Dustin and Sean in their speeches.There was nothing innocuos about their speeches.They were encouraging people to be more accepting to the rights of their community.With Malaysia's media censoring it out like that shows that Malaysia is still in a shielded zone keeping to traditions and forgetting about a community that already clearly exists,like it or not.Furthermore, what do us Malaysians expect? Look at what has happened to our country's entertainment. Conservative parties are always protesting and depriving other citizens and races the right to watch a concert by a foreign female artist because they always find faults in their dressing. They will always use the same "we do not want to be influenced by the Westerners" as claims in forbidding the citizens from watching.If you do not want to be influenced by the Westerners, then why are they still showing Hollywood movies in cinemas?Why can't they just show the local movies? Because we all know that they can't generate as much income from local movies as much as Hollywood movies can. Same goes with local artistes.Has anyone made it big in US?and stayed in the business long enough to make a name for themselves?no.none.and our local entertainment scene is getting so boring. for any campaigns or shows, they will recycle the same dose of celebrities. Even Michelle Yeoh has not much faith in our country. Recently she said she could see an Oscar coming for China in future but what about Malaysia?Did she mention she had faith in her country?

    Posted by aussiebrood90 February 27, 09 07:59 AM
  1. Acmeon, i sincerely hope that the 'small uneducated country' you're referring to is not Malaysia.
    you commented that Malaysia contributes nothing but hate and ignorance???? how much more ignorant can YOU get??? who do you think you are to criticize a nation you know jack s--t about???? you are pathetic to need to satisfy your (what i'm sure is 99% self-inflated) self-esteem by taking the piss of at random websites, thinking that you sound grand and magnificent by posting what u obviously feel is a gathered opinion or fact, but is in reality nothing but your own personal conception of the world you know nothing about, that you have to mask your opinions with the word 'we' thinking that there are actually other dip-s--t brainless gits like you in the world. i assure you, you are one of a kind.
    again, incase your puny brain cant take that in, im insulting your sorry excuse of a life which you have to justify through petty whimsical insults online.
    what is it that you feel when you post such comments? pride?? glory?? satisfaction?? i bet you're one of those people on youtube which just enjoys insulting everyone they see. the only reason why i bother replying your stupid excuse of thoughts is because i am a Malaysian. so f--k off.
    every system has its flaw. what matters is the people within who can recognize them and work on them, thats what makes a country proud. trust me when i say this, i pity your country because it has you as its citizen
    I'm proud to be standing side by side with Khee Teik, as fellow Malaysians.
    Good job with the article!

    Posted by ks February 27, 09 11:36 AM
  1. Excuse me acmeon, did you just call Malaysia "that small uneducated country that has contributed nothing to the world but hate and ignorance". You must be one very uneducated person, and ignorant to say the least, to be calling this nation those. You can't even spell PRIMITIVE right, for god's sake. Please, name calling is for idiots who have no real argument in anything. We Malaysians have only one thing to say, "You put your brain on your knees, is it?" (Now that's in Manglish).

    Posted by learnaboutmsiabeforeutalkaboutit February 27, 09 11:57 AM
  1. lol.. Acmeon...

    looks to me like youre from Malaysia...
    cause since you claim that Malaysia is "that small uneducated country that has contributed nothing to the world but hate and ignorance" only such a country can produce a man like you.. who is uneducated, and contributes nothing but ignorance and hatred....


    Posted by pissed February 27, 09 05:04 PM
  1. For those of you who are shocked or appalled by Malaysia's actions, please don't be. The truth of the matter is, while homosexuality gone to great lengths in the past and created astounding process in the fight for equal rights and visibility, the fact of the matter is more than half of the world still views homosexuality negatively or disregards it all together. When fact of the matter is, Malaysia probably has the same number of homosexuals as the highly publicized Thais. Yet because of social, governmental and religious pressure, people are unwilling to come out, let alone stand together and fight for visibility. I would like to applaud Pang Khee Teik for his courage and his well written letter. Life is hard enough as a homosexual, it's twice as hard in a country like Malaysia because there, you simply don't exist.

    Posted by Fellow Malaysian February 28, 09 04:38 AM
  1. I am overwhelmed by all the support to Pang Khee Teik's article! It gives me hope that even countries like Malaysia will someday have equal rights for all. I had always wanted to visit Malaysia, and go diving there, but heard some years back that the leader there denounced Gays, and said that they weren't welcome there. I scratched Malaysia from my vacation list ... perhaps now, after reading these letters, I will add it back to my list. The Hong Kong network should be ashamed for it's blatant, hateful, censorship! They would rather report truth-less news to their listeners rather than the facts ...I thought Hong Kong was a bit more advanced than that!

    Posted by Steven Leong March 1, 09 02:36 AM

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