Malaysia, despite achieving independence all those decades ago, is still not free from the reins of racial discrimination.
Time and time again, numerous films and artwork by brave talents have pierced through the ether and made its way to our headlines, museums and screens.
However, not all of them are celebrated, as evident by Namewee’s constant legal battle when it comes to his film, Babi that depicts racism and violence within a Malaysian school setting. His poster, which includes the words “India k*ling”, “Cina babi” and “Melayu bodoh” also garnered a lot of heat.
The same can be said about a recent Merdeka-themed video that blatantly includes the derogatory words ‘K*ling’ and ‘Cina Bukit’ which has since caused controversy and angered the Film Directors’ Association of Malaysia (FDAM).
According to FDAM president Ahmad Ibrahim, “The advertisement, which was posted on social media platforms, is not suitable for viewing nor should it be used as some form of teaching guide.
“FDAM urges the authorities, namely the home ministry and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), to take appropriate action against those responsible for the video.”
Watch it below:
— krishna (@krishster) August 24, 2021
The ad depicts a Malay father uttering racial slurs towards the Indian and Chinese community while scrolling through the news. He also labels the other races as “gangsters” and “drunks”, which are all prominent stereotypes in Malaysia.
His sentiments cause great distress to his wife, who can be seen doing chores in the background.
At the end of the video, their son hands over a drawing he made for school to his mother. It’s a portrait of the boy holding hands with his friends of other races. At first glance, it seems innocuous but upon further inspection, the friends are all labelled with the same racial slurs uttered by the boy’s father.
The message of the ad is to show that racism is not inherent, it is learned.
FDAM continues by saying, “FDAM hopes that the value of unity, especially the ‘Malaysian Family’ concept introduced by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob can be appreciated as much as possible by every member of society in the country so (that) all Malaysians do not carelessly try to play on sentiments surrounding racism.”
I believe that context matters in this situation. The goal of the ad was not to anger Malaysians, but to show the realities of racism and how casual it can be despite our seemingly “united” front.
The fact that the Malay father had subconsciously engrained his racist beliefs onto his son is very real and it happens every day.
No matter how hard Malaysians try to deny racism and feign ignorance in order to preserve our ‘1 Malaysia’ image to the world, racism is as deeply-entrenched into our country as the monuments of our forefathers.
You don’t need to look very far to find it. By observing our parents, our media and the words of our country’s leaders, racism is very much apparent.
The ad is misunderstood because in the end, the boy draws himself holding the hands of his friends, proving that innocence is still running through his blood. It is the words and actions of the adults around him that have the capability to taint it.
Saying the words “K*ling” and “Cina Bukit” so brazenly and unapologetically in the ad, while bound to grab attention, only drives the message home. Some Malaysians are not fully-aware of their racism until they are called out for it and even worse, some simply do not care.
The actions of his father are not to be made an example of, it is a portrayal of pure ignorance and bigotry that should be erased from our society. Due to that, the ad is not stoking the flames of racism, it is trying to extinguish it.
Merdeka is a celebration of independence and it is a day where all Malaysians unite. While positivity may be easier to stomach in ads through the waving of flags and showcasing of traditional garments, we need ads that depict the ugly side of Malaysia too.
How are we supposed to achieve a society bereft of racism if we won’t even address it?
How is singing and dancing around KLCC helpful if there are still children in the country growing up thinking that saying racial slurs is okay?
This ad is brave enough to depict the subtle effects of racism that can gradually grow to shape the minds of our future and it should be amplified, not silenced.
Cover image by Wazari Wazir