Press Statement

Hypocritical & insincere for PM and govt leaders to praise Michelle Yeoh while Mentega Terbang film producers and actors continue to be persecuted

14 March 2023


We refer to the praise that the Prime Minister and other government leaders have lavished upon Michelle Yeoh over her historic Oscar win for best actress for the movie ‘Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.”


It is hypocritical, insincere and contradictory for government leaders and Finas to sing praises for Michelle Yeoh’s win, whilst hard working local film producers and actors are subjected to harassment and criminal investigations over the content of their films.


Are Anwar Ibrahim, Fahmi Fadzil and other leaders not aware that in Malaysia, Michelle Yeoh’s movie would have led to a criminal investigation for “offending sentiments” or “breach of religious sensitivity” due to the LGBT themes in it? Michelle Yeoh herself would likely have been hauled up for police questioning as is now being done to the Mentega Terbang actors.


For the government to now ride on the coattails of Michelle Yeoh’s brilliant Oscar win is distasteful and ironical. Will the government now withdraw or repent their repressive actions against locally produced movies ‘Pulau’ and ‘Mentega Terbang’? Will they at least now stop kowtowing to the moral policing of zealots and give our film producers the artistic freedom to create great films?


Ministers like Fahmi Fadzil are promising to improve our national film policy. But such statements ring hollow when a film like Mentega Terbang that tries to explore heavier and mature themes are subjected to criminal investigations and condemnations from government agencies to appease the vocal conservatives. Local filmmakers and producers have long been shackled by the excessive censorship that the previous governments have imposed on them, and the supposedly reformist government led by Pakatan Harapan have shown that they are no different.


What the government must understand is that art is subjective; whilst it can be for entertainment, it can also be thought-provoking, which would also mean that it may even be deemed offensive by some. However, that in of itself does not warrant wanton censorship for the purported sake of “maintaining public order”. Art, in any shape or form, is protected under the freedom of expression under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. As such, it is the duty of the government to protect such artistic expression and not give way to certain groups who want to dictate what can or cannot be produced. When that is the measure of censorship, the scales would heavily favour the perceived majority at the expense of the minority, leading to a total erasure of realities that minority groups wish to tell through their chosen artistic medium.


The Oscar win that the government so desperately wants to co-opt as a glorious moment for the country should be a glaring example of the vast creative force that exists within Malaysia, if only they were given the chance to do the same here without harassment. If the government truly wants to take credit for any accolades obtained by Malaysian artists, then it should protect the products of creative freedom within our own country by upholding it as part of a right safeguarded by Article 10(1)(a) of our Constitution.


The first step in the right direction in that regard would be to immediately halt ongoing investigations on all those involved in the ‘Mentega Terbang’ film and to stop using enforcement authorities to harass other local filmmakers and artists for their art in the future. Only then can the local film and art scene truly flourish and the government would have a right to share in the glory of the achievements of Malaysian actors or filmmakers.


Issued by:

Zaid Malek


Lawyers for Liberty