Yasmin Ahmad's 2 movies "Sepet" and "Gubra" have broken the mould for a Malaysian movie. Just what is so different about these 2 movies? Well, they are thought provoking and explore what's considered taboo topics like mixed marriages and inter-racial relationship dynamics. In a manner that bucks the trend.
Let me talk about Sepet and the issues which it brings up. Sepet is a story of a Malay kampung girl and an ethnic Chinese pirated VCD peddlar who fall in love with each other. Predictably, they face opposition from their families and society, not in the least due to their different racial backgrounds, religions and the Chinese boy's unsavoury profession.
The conventional Malaysian movie usually deals with inter-racial relationships in Malaysia by invariably having the non-Malay half of the relationship converting to his/her Malay partner's religion, culture, customs and naming conventions. Since Sepet tackles this issue a little differently, it (along with Gubra), as a consequence, has been labelled as corrupters of Malay culture.
During a recent tv forum on RTM1 about Sepet and Gubra, two statements made by a couple of the forum's panellists were shocking to say the least.
One of the panellists, a film producer, reported said "Malaysia Melayu punya" (Malaysia belongs to the Malays).
Another panellist, a journalist, reportedly said (translated) "How can a good Muslim girl who prays and reads the Quran fall in love with a Chinese infidel?"
What were they trying to say?
- that non-Malays have no claim to Malaysia despite being citizens since independence? Or that they are basically renters who can and will be evicted if they cross the line... like say, for instance, daring to 'goda' or seduce a Malay person but are not fully willing to convert and forsake who they are since birth?
- that all Chinese are infidels, or that all non-Muslims are infidels? What's this? Religious crusaders in the 21st century?
- that good Muslims cannot fall in love with non-Muslims?
The truly frightening aspect of all this is not the fact that some Malays possess chauvinistic attitudes towards their non-Malays countrymen. What's truly horrifying is that these contentious statements have not provoked any reaction at all from moderate, progressive Malays, nor from Chinese leaders who purport to champion Chinese interests in Malaysia, nor from the govt that needs to reminded that it is a govt for all Malaysians regardless of race, nor from the proponents of Bangsa Malaysia? Nothing has been said so far to censure the individuals involved, nor anything to reassure the public that this is not the position held by the overall Malay community and the govt establishment.
The implications are far reaching, and woe betide Malaysia if this chauvinistic viewpoint reflects the thinking of more people besides the 2 unenlightened panellists. I sincerely hope not, and I personally believe that most Malays in Malaysia are moderate, inclusive and have a more pragmatic outlook on race relations. Having said that, my advise to my non-Malay friends... don't give up that Singaporean PR or Australian PR just yet.