KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board has given “The Passion of the Christ” a U rating, uncut, opening it up to all ages, but has slapped on a surprise restriction: You have to be a Christian to see it.
Christians make up 9% of the country’s 25 million population of Malays, Chinese, Indians and indigenous groups. Some 66% are Muslim.
“It’s a deeply religious movie. We live in a multiracial country and we needed to show sensitivity toward other religions, particularly Islam,” said Film Censorship Board secretary Lukeman Saaid.
Local churches had worried the censors would ban the film and appealed to the government to allow its release.
“We argued that the story has special interest for Christians,” said Patrick Cheng, a rep for the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, an umbrella body of evangelical churches. “Despite members of the public saying that this movie should be for everyone, we understand the governmental constraints and are willing to work within them.”
Screenings will be held at public cinemas, but tickets will be available only through churches, not at box offices. The pic will not be advertised in the media.
However, the safeguards will not guarantee that only Christians see the pic. Malaysians are required to carry identity cards, but they don’t list the bearer’s religion. A non-Christian can easily persuade a Christian friend to purchase a ticket and walk into a cinema.
“True, there’s no way to control non-Christians from viewing it. But we live in a predominantly Muslim country where certain interests have to be protected. If this is the only way a certain section of the population gets to view the movie, then so be it,” Cheng said.
A nationwide release is expected in two or three weeks, while two invitation-only screenings have been arranged for pastors and Christian leaders Aug. 11-12.
A 20th Century Fox Film rep says the distrib is still finalizing details, as this situation is “the first of its kind and there’s a lot to look into to ensure a smooth screening.”