Malaysian filmmakers continue to challenge censorship and taboos in their homeland by producing films that discuss difficult topics. Chinese-Malaysian director, Namewee, is no different.
Despite his controversies in the past, his latest film Babi is a notable piece of work that has since been nominated at several international film festivals. However, staying true to his nature, the film has been banned in Malaysia for its polarising subject matter.
You can tell, just by the title which means ‘pig’ in Malay, that the film will surely turn a few heads (remember what happened to Dua Lipa’s tweet?). The name comes from the commonly used insult towards the Chinese race, ‘Cina Babi’.
Bagging nominations at the Berlin International Film Festival, Bangkok International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and the Golden Horse Award, Babi is Namewee’s most successful work to date.
The film centres around an alleged government cover-up that took place within a multi-racial high school in 2000. According to the director, this film is based on a true (yet enshrouded from the masses) story. In this film, students from the school wage a race-war against each other that quickly turns violent and even fatal.
It depicts abuse of power, racial discrimination, hate speech and sexual exploitation which are all prominent yet rarely talked about issues within Malaysia. A quote from the film goes as such:
“Di Malaysia, semua orang boleh kencing bersama, tetapi tak boleh berkongsi meja makan dan duduk bersama.”
Translation: In Malaysia, everyone can pee together, but nobody can share a dining table and sit together.
Take a look:
Due to the controversial and evocative nature of the film, director Namewee struggled to find investors who would contribute to the film’s production. While the script was written 7 years ago, it’s only seeing a release now because he had to work on a tight budget in order to realise his vision. In an interview with Malay Mail, he said,
“The script was actually written seven years ago, and it did not go into production then because nobody would ever consider to invest in a zero-profit, must-be banned film.”
Despite being banned in the country it was filmed in, Namewee remains grateful that international film festivals have picked up the story for release.
Local films have been banned before, take for example Dukun which was banned because it bore too many similarities to a sensationalised criminal case involving a political figure. However, Malaysians, being their curious selves, will surely find a way to watch Babi since it has been making waves overseas.
In a video he posted to Youtube, Namewee denounces racial politics and discrimination and still hopes that Malaysia will improve when it comes to unity amongst races.
Namewee has also garnered nominations for Best Director and Best Actor in the Toronto International Film Festival.
We hope that this will inspire future filmmakers to persevere through challenges to produce films that will bring significant impact to today’s society.