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Malaysian Film Industry Construct Malaysian Identity Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4912 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Malaysia is a Multiple ethic country, but the interesting situation is , the race that dominant the country are all imigrant, the malay was come from the Javanese. The Chinese is come from China and Indian people come from India. but nowadays they all citizen of the country, with these alieness history, how should Malaysian define their national identity?

'We have just celebrated the 25th anniversary of our independence. During this quarter ccentury we have reached a level of achievement which we can be proud of. We have succeeded in laying a strong foundation for the evolvement o f One citizenry, One language and One culture. It is on this foundation that we build a greater Malaysia.'(Malaysia : Crisis of Identity p8)

'What Malaysia needs are 'moderates of ends' and not 'moderates of means' who are eventually wMalaysia, an Indian Malaysia, a Malay Malaysia but a Malaysian Malaysia where the different races, languages, religions and cultures can flourish in Malaysia.'(p3)

The first quote was adderssed by the BN Gorvenment after they win the election in 1982, at that days the gorvernment suggested the idea of Assimilation: A + B + C = A, where A, B, and C represent different social groups and A represents the dominant group. The subordination of minority cultures into a dominant culture.This approach may be likned to what some have called "forced assimilation" ((Alison Gibson. 1984. p 105) (National culture and democracy , Kua kia soon, p133) . The second quote was the respond from the people, espeacially the Chinese which represent the idea of Pluralism: A + B + C = A + B + C, where A, B, and C represent different social groups that over time maintain their unique identities. Cultural pluralism is fre-quently seen as a "peaceful coexistence between groups. All cultures are to be allowed to exist separately and equally, harmonious or not. The harmonious version has been termed"unity in diversity'. (Alison Gibson. 1984. p 105) (National culture and democracy , Kua kia soon, p133). You can image when this two idea bump together, how much chaos it will make. The Malaysian have stay in this juncture for over 50 years, it is necessary to identify briefly the advocacy of various positions on National identity. First, i will discuss about what is National Identity, And then i will explore how the Malaysia's film industry construt the image of Malaysian's National Identity, And how the image change through the decade.

What is National Identity.

National identity is a complex idea,

National identity erase difference by imposing a set of attributes on all menbers of the nation - and unwilling ness to accept all these attributes threatens identity and therefore threatens expulsion from that community.(p62)

The idea of erase all the difference doesn't mean to erase other culture, but erase any other identity that create by any individual group in the country because these are a power that will cause expulsion . National identity is one idea that can accept by all the individual group, and gather them in to one voice.

National identity is only one of the many social identities available for citizens of multicultural countries such as Malaysia....National identity has a central role in promoting peaceful ethnic relations. (Malini ratnasigam, p3)

In the book "Ethnic relation and Nation Building" Malini Ratnasingam claim that the national identity is the best form of identity should adapt by the Malaysian, beacause the other social identity content too much category that will tear the Malaysian into many individual pieces, but national identity will work well for the Malaysian, Because nation are crossed by those differences , a force of unite, a sense of belonging and nationess.

So now we understand what is national identity. But now the question is who should decide what is our identity? At the begining of this dissertation, there are the arguement about chosing which idea shall we adapt, Assimilation or Pluralism?

'The nation is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. '(Benedict Anderson, p60)

From the quote Benedict Anderson belieave that the nation is about all the member, even the smallest nation. National identity is a image that can imagined by every single nation. But In the book 'Cultural Contestatation' author Zawahi Ibrahim disagree with anderson's concept and suggested that the identity formation takes place within what he would call a "two social reality" which are "authority-defined" social reality, one which is authoritatively defined by people who are part of the dominant power structure. The second is "everyday-defined" social reality, one which is experienced by people in the course of thier everday life. These two social realities exist side by side at any given time. (Zawahi Ibrahim, 1998 ,pg18) The identity is a negotiation between these two social reality.

How Malaysia film Indutry construt Malaysian's National identity

"The Malaysian film indutry was founded on Chinese money,Indian imagination and Malay labour"(Hamzah hussin,1994 ,p105)

Although outside the screen, there are wonderful mullti cross ethnic relation on the movie production, but almost all the film are Malay movies. The only thing that really can consider as multi racial is the Old malay movie industry have strong influnce from indian bollywood style beacuse of the director, but very less of them had really mention about the multi ethnicity or religious relation.

"I chose to call this book 120 malay movie, because more than half of the movies were made before 'Malaysia' was even created.(Plus they were made in Singapore) So what they have common were the languague and ethnic milieu they showcased." (120Malay movie , p26)

The autor of "120 Malay Movie" clearly state that the early film industry in Malaysia can't even consider Malaysia's movie, It is only presented the early life of Malay in Malaysia, it maybe a very well materials for the Malaysia's Malay identity, but obviously not suite the idea of National identity.

But now it raise a question ,if the national indentity include everything, don't the Malay culture also part of the national identity? Yes, but now we talking about how the film industry help construt the national identity, at the old time, the Malay film are totally dominanted the film industry, which give an idea of the impression of the nation have owned by Malay, In the film 'Tajul Ashikin' (see figure 1) there was a scene where two men try to peddle thier wares, but thier voices are drowned out by a newly arrived Chinese team that is offering dental services.

'This shows the Malay fear of being 'displaced' in their own land by new arrivals who seem to be much better at buiness'. (p25,120Malay Movie)

Figure 1 - "Tajul Ashikin" by M Amin

But at that time, the stark economic disparity between Malay peasants and Chinese merchants didn't seem to have undue political repercussions because the populationwas sparse and times were good (120 Malay p269). So the movie show the worry of the Malay sovereignty instead of promoting peaceful ethnic relations. With this idea, it help to destroy the national identity instead of construt it.

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But still there is some exception.There is still some other racial tension pop up in these movie. On the film "Mahsuri" which release in 1959 (see fiugre 2), there was a part about a merciless indian teasing by the Malays about his skin colour. (p165) The plot is meant to be funny, in fact, it was directed by an Indian. Ethnic conflict often appear in Malaysian daily life, we can not avoid it, but we can face it with great attitude. This plot showed an attitude to face the difference between every ethnic, just laugh at it.

Figure 2 - "Mahsuri" by BM Rao

The next film that have the multi ethnicity it is 'Ali Baba Pucang Lapok' directed by Malaysian silver-screen legend P. Ramlee at 1960, P.Ramlee are one of the minority inside that can create the sense of Malaysianness in the movie in the decade. The movie itself are deliberate mish-mash of culture, inside the movie you can see different kind of culture image. But the most surprise scene will be when the Chinese trader being asked how long he have lived in the area, he answer that he have lived here for 80years, he not only counted his own 50 years age, but add up his father.(see figure 3)

Figure 3 - The Chinese trader said that his father lived there 30 years before he borned.

'This blurs the line between "immigrant' and native' and it is precisely this blurring that must continue untill all Malaysian feel they have the same stake in the nation. '(p26, 120 Malay Movie)

It is hardly seen a movie have such multi culture in Malay old film. The national identity is to create a sense of nation, it only can be done when the have the idea that the land doesn't owned by anyone, but they were all born equal in this place. This movie successfully deliver the message. and helped construct the sense of nation, althought it is only one short scene, but it is still a big step for the Malaysia's industry at the decade.

Another film also directed by P.Ramlee 'Sesudah Sebuh' (see figure 4), "The most multi cultural cast we have ever seen." said the Author of 120 Malay Movie Amir Muhammad. The Main cast include the 3 main race of Malaysian, Melayu, Cina and indian. And a conversation in the movie, create am ideal racial integration, In a bookshop by a customer to the owner :"Even though you're Malay and i'm Chinese, we are both Malaysians. And Malaysians have a duty to help each other." The Idea can't be more clear, it's simple and directly pointing the ideal without any decoration.

Figure 4- 'Sesudah Sebuh' directed by P.Ramlee

Although there are some more film that really promotiong the ideal natiaonal identity for Malaysian, but these number are still only a drop in the bucket. There are still mile a part to fill the whole bucket. But atleast we can see the root of the idea of national identity growing inside.

When it come to 1970s, the idea of multic ethic face a challenge. The 513 incident had drag the ethic relation into crisis situation. The racial riots led to a declaration of a state of 'national emergency'. The riot ignited the capital Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding area of Selangor, Malay mobs, wearing white headbands signifying an alliance with death, and brandishing swords and daggers, surged into Chinese areas in the capital, burning, looting and killing. In retaliation, Chinese, sometimes aided by Indians, armed themselves with pistols and shotguns and struck at Malay kampongs (villages). Huge pillars of smoke rose skyward as houses, shops and autos burned.( http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,900859,00.html)

'Tunku Abdul Rahman's multiracial style of government was successful until serious and widespread anti-Chinese riots broke out in May 1969. These riots followed a fall in support for the United Malays' National Organization (UMNO) in the federal election and were indicative of Malay resentment of the economic success of the Chinese business community.' (http://www.city.com.my/malaysia-history.htm)

After the incident, the gorvernment came up a serial of policy that surpress the other ethnic, in order to restructure Malaysian society.

'The UMNO-dominated state's aggressive attempt to conflate the nation's linguistic identity with Malay's status as the sole nationaal and official language threatened the constitutionally sanctioned freeedom to use thier mother tongue.'(Milthiethnic, pg220)

'The pro-Malay policy. The most significant result of the events of May 1969 was an attempt, announced in the five-year plan (1971-75), to restructure Malaysian society. The aim was to raise the percentage of ethnic-Malay-owned businesses from 4% to 30% by 1990, and to extend the use of pro-Malay (bumiputra) affirmative-action quota systems for university entrance and company employment. Economic expansion, it was hoped, would greatly ease this redistributive process and at the same time offer the opportunity to eliminate poverty among all Malaysians.' (http://www.city.com.my/malaysia-history.htm)

The National Cultural Policy(NCP) was formulated at a congress held at the University of Malaya in August 1971, and the announced Policy consisted of three main principles.

The national culture of Malaysia must be based on the cultures of the people indigenous to the region;

Elements from other cultures,which are suitable and reasonable may be incorporated into the natioonal culture; and

Islam will be an important element in the national culture. (Mohad Talib Osman, pg95 )

All of these policy indirectly influence the relation between ethnic, all the unequal act make the ethnic hatred grown day by day. Causing the idea of national identity start changging. The change of the society have brought into the film industry , the multi ethnic that rarely seen from the film before 1970s completely obliterate after these policy untill recent years. Before then we have Malay culture dominant film industry.

The segregate can also see from the statistics that correlate cinema atendance by ethnic groupwith the national or language origin of the film being viewed. (see figure 5)





















Figure 5 - Language distribution of cinema attendance by ethinic group (1979)

'The quetion of the cultural identity of Malaysian film is a constant issue, even for the least culturally minded film producer, since it is related to the need to attract a broad-spectrum audience.It is still the case that more than 90% of audience for Malaysian films is Malay' (Malaysia Cinema Asian film, pg154)

From the statistic we can see that Bahasa Melayu cinema is a weak cultural force, despite the Malays being the most powerful political force in the counry. At that time, The chinese usually watch the Hongkong or Taiwanese films ; or the second choice will be the English - Language film, but not Bahasa Malayu film. The same situation happen with the Indian autience.

'cinema is probably the most raciallly segregated activity in the country today'(Mansor bin Puteh, 1990, pg154)

On top we discuss about crisis of ethnic realation that cause restrict the multi ethnic movie culture. In 1981, the idea of Malay sovereignty that set by the gorvernment start to invade the movie industry. National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) was established in 1981 to encourage the development of the local industry.

'ensure that a sizeable portion of the total volume of buimess done in the production, distribution and exhibition sectors would be handled by Malays'(Baharudin Latif, 1981, pg150)

Control and restrict from the gorvernment have caused the other ethnic have lower chance to make their own movie, and also restricted the creativity of theme or topic. All of these restriction had bring the Malaysia film industry far away from their Golden age in 1950s -1960s.

'Film are censored or banned if it oppose government polucy or encourage anti-gorvernment feeling; glorify communism and socialism; glorify any particular race while denigrating others; gloriy crime and immorality; deal with sadism, cruelty and excessive violence; insult 'public dignity' ; and show behavior not acceptable to Malaysian society' (Mohd Hamdan Bin Haji Adnan, 1991)

These policy had make the Malaysian confuse and question about thier naional identity, the policy have succesfully incite the desire of Malay that persuit for Malay sovereignty, the other ethnic like chinese and indian felt betray by the country, when there is no nation pride in them, the National identity become dominant by the Malay, and become the image that shown by the Movie industry, but it is not the image that the nation share along, from (figure 5) we can see the local Malay film have not accepted by the other ethnic. so it is not a National identity of that decade, the film on that decade have lose the concept of being a National cinema.

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'The cinema is then a mean of 'speaking the nation' in all its constructed uniqueness. The connection between 'speaking the nation' and 'selling the nation' become all the more invitable when the rhetoric of both nationlism and marketing emphasize qualities of uniqueness, distinctiveness and patriotism. The term 'representing the nation' there fore accuires and ecmonomic as well as an analytical and cultural objective - it is not just' how' a cinema represents the nation, but also 'how successfully' it does so.' (Malaysia Cinema , pg 107)

New Malaysian Film

The decade of Malaysian film might look like a decade that have controled by Malay, and their the relation with other ethnic race doesn't seem well. Althought the realation between the different ethnic group are peaceful in decade before 1960s, but the policy in 1970s created an long fight between ethnic group.

'Race has always been an issue in my country, even before independence but never has it been as serious and divisive as it is today.Almost every issue is seen from the perspectivve of race to the point where it is impossible to obtain a consensus of public opinion on any issue'(Kee Thuan Che,1993,p57)

But where there is pressure, where there is resistance. The serious situation also created a trend, Never has it been as desire as today, people pursuit for the unity of the Nation. In the book "Found in Malaysia" have interviewed 54 influential Public figure who have different race, religion, culture, gender, sexual,genarational and political. But when it come to the question: Describe what kind of Malaysia you whould like for yourself and future generation? They all gave a same answer in many different way, but in the end, the main idea is the same.

"All of us regardless of racial/ethnic, regious, class and linguistic backgrounds, share one thing in common : we are all Malaysian citizens and we call this country our home and care for its future. We dream of future Malaysia that is equal to all, but takes into acount ourparticular wants, needs and aspirations and at the same time, is able to cater to the needs of others according to an inclusive logic of equal representation and equal right."(Azizi Khan, 2004, pg475)

The idea become a trend, and start to appear in the recent ten years. Beacuse the inrternet have start to cover all the new genaration daily life. Internet is one of the most powerful sources in human history, the information can share in rapid speed, milllion of "personal narratives" or "popular forms of expression" which help construt the "everyday-defined" social reality was shared everyday. Causing the Balance between the "authority-defined" social reality and "everyday-defined" social reality started to change. So we will start from Malaysia Independence Film Industry, which have well used the internet as a state for them to spread thier idea and story . The first example for indipendence film is the Project "15 Malaysia" .

"15Malaysia is a short film project. It consists of 15 short films made by 15 Malaysian filmmakers. These films not only deal with socio-political issues in Malaysia, they also feature some of the best-known faces in the country, including actors, musicians and top political leaders. You may think of them as funky little films made by 15 Malaysian voices for the people of Malaysia." ( http://15malaysia.com/)

From the project name we can know that this film is dedicate to show 15 kind of story that happened in Malaysia. I going to take a few of them into discusstion. First i will start with the "personal narrative" story. "House" is a story about an indian family forced by the capitalist to give up their house for development, and also show the feeling of the indian kid(Rama) toward the house is more then a house, but a family.(see figure 6) The story attempt to explore the story inside the slums usually the indian race who have many family suffer with these problem in order to let the audience understand the country more.

Figure 6 - Rama express his feeling about the house.

We will strat from Yasmin Ahmadm (see figure 6), Malaysia's famous film director, writter and scriptwriter, in Malaysia, most of the ethnic used to avoid each other but inevitably bump together, no one can avoid, because this is just what live in Malaysia are look like, And most of her film are challenging the moment when different ethnic bump together, she narrate the spark of the moment and turn in into a moving picture. When most of the popular culture's movie deliberately avoid the ethnic conflict, her films break the boundary between ethnic and religion. She focus on emotion and the relationship between people, narate and present the story in a human perspective, not in Malay, Chinese or Indian, but back to the origin - human emotion. It makes the audience to rethink about politic, religion and social issues in indirectly ways. The more we understand each other, the less we affraid.

'She is an ambassador of unity. An individual with amazing foresight who; work has bridged all the races in the country. Great loss to the nation and the creative world.'( Chandran Ravi. http://entertainment.malaysia.msn.com/photos/photos.aspx?cp-documentid=5080081&page=13)

Figure 6 - Yasmin Ahmad

Yasmin Ahmad first movie "Sepet"(see figure 7) is a story about a Chinese boy fall in love with a Malay girl. This might look normal in foreign country, but the relation between Chinese and Malay is not simple.

Figure 7 - Sepet

The relation between Chinese and Malay always been complicate, that hatred between both of this race happen before incident 513, when in World war 2, the Japan invade and ruled this country for over 3 years. on that period, the Japanese surpress the Chinese but treated the Malay friendly and even form a Malay army to defence againts the communist, but who is communist? At that time many Chinese were the communist, the root of hate were start from here, and Malay's fear of get replace by the Chinese in the econimic, then is the 513 incident, the unequal policy, Chinese fear of forced to join muslim if married a muslim and etc.

All of these caused the relation between this two race are always controvertial. In the movie 'Sepet' that is a scene the Protagonist's(Jason) friend try to persuade Jason the relation between him and Heroine(Orked) is forbiden. Which clearly potrait the mind set of Chinese about the relationship of the interacial couple. (See figure 8 ).

Figure 8 - Keong (left) advices Jason not to get involved in relationship with Malay girls.

Yasmin Ahmad used the traditional perception of Malaysians and confronted it in her movie. It can't be denied that she used a very creative way to show the relationship between history culture and innocent love.

Malay films seldom touch on taboo topics like alcohol, dog, prostitution, suicide, etc. Many of the Malay films only showed the 'good side'. Much of the time, they are hindered by those issues. But Yasmin Ahmad used reverse psychology to bring out the negative issues, because there are many grey areas to investigate in Malaysian culture. The following are some of the taboos in Malay tradition that is shown in the movie "Muallaf (2007)". A Muslim woman who despaired on her marriage ended up taking her own life by suicide. Young Malays play and get drunk in a snooker room. An Islam teacher touched a dog on his way to mosque. A sincere Malay Muslim girl works in a pub at night. These issues are a challenge to the traditional Malay society.

However, the tasks that she undertakes must be lawful from the point of view of Islam. She must not work as a dancer, a model, a barmaid, a waitress, a film actress, a musician, or a prostitute to sell her femininity in order to make money, even with the consent of her husband. (A. Rahman I. Doi, 1990:147).

Yasmin Ahmad's movies use the sensitive issues faced by Malays as a discussion. Talking about sensitive issues is very challenging, especially on ethnicity. But it depends on how the director presented it. How much can the audience accept it, based on the issues?

Yasmin Ahmand film has a power of introspection, Yasmin Ahmad film dig into the confilct between ethnic group instead of try to avoild these sensitive issue like other, Yasmin Ahmad bring the conflict right into audience eye without beautify it, only with the simplest emotion of human being, a way that lead us to undestand empathy. Only when Malaysian strong enough to really face themselves, then we can form our Identity Honestly.

The next case will be opposite of Yasmin Ahmad film.Yasmin Ahmad film represent the reality side of ethnic conflict, now we are going to see the Malaysian utopia. 'Nasi Lemak 2.0'(see figure 9) is directed by a controversial public figure - Namewee, who have temper the national anthem and content with rasict, critic to gorvenment and religion in 2007. The song 'Negarakuku' drag the attention of public, Public reaction towards the song is split, Immediate reactions in the form of YouTube comments range from being critical, in fair agreement, support, attacks and threats towards Wee. He became One of the most haterd public figure by the Malay ethnic at that time.

Figure 8 - Nasi Lemak 2.0

Nasi Lemak2.0 is the first Malaysian film that did not target one of the three population groups as its audience. And succesfully hit 7million ringgit gross. The movie is have many plot that content the relation between the different ethnic for example: the bright non-Muslim students unable to enroll into universities, authorities bias in favour of Malays, Chinese educated citizens speak poor English, immigrants issues, Hang Tuah's unsolved identity mystery, English educated Chinese lack of confidence in speaking Chinese language, Kuala Lumpur a busy and unsettling city, some non-Chinese could speak better Chinese, mix of Indian and chinese song, and culture of Baba and Nyonya.

Different with Yasmin Ahmad film, althought in Nasi Lemak2.0 there is still some ethnic conflict, but most of the time, it show a utopia of how Malaysia ethnic group interact with each other, and create a whole new kind of culture. The song 'Curry Neh' (see figure 9 ) in the movie, mixed the chinese and indian culture, There is more example like, the Malay chef teaching chinese matial art 'Taichi' at the park (see figure 10) or the chinese tradition song sing with english lyric(figure 11). Attempt to question why can't a specific ethnic learn the culture of other ethnic.

Figure 9 - Curry Neh

Figure 10 - Malay teaching 'Taichi'

Figure 11 - Tradition Chinese song sing with English Lyric

The film was success because the intereact of different ethnic causing resonance among the Malaysian, the way of acting and some humour about the Malaysia's gorvernment or stereotyping of ethnic is what Malaysia face in daily life.

The second film of Namewee is 'Hantu gangster' (see figure 12). The film continue the style of 'Nasi Lemak 2.0'. Hantu gangster attempt to send the message of Nation unity before 1970s, and question about why todays ethnic relation become worst. The film style is same with 'Nasi Lemak2.0' The idea is the same but only the story had change, there are many ethnic intereact like Chinese only understand Malay when it speak in chinese accent, a Taoist priest that know different religion style of exorcism, a parody of the 513 incident, and a Indian Party song with Malay, Mandarin, Hokkien, Tamil lyric, etc. These ethnic mixture is what Malaysian Interested, although reality might not be the same, but from the sucess of these film we can see the future that Malaysian persuit, the future that Malaysian image.

Figure 12 - Hantu Gangster 2012


Malaysia is a young country, there is many thing we have to experience to understand what are we today, what will be out future. Today Malaysia is in a turning point, where the politic have a new Atmosphere which will directly influence the "authority-defined"social reality. And the development of internet, liberty of speech help people to understand their capability, have the way to stand up and express thier emotion and their story, i believe in the future, when the "authority-defined" and the "everyday-defined" have found a way to line up, Malaysian will no longer quetion their identiry.


http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Anderson.html (benicdic anderson)


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