Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid, head of Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board, says he sought to cut more than four minutes of material from “Beauty And The Beast” – far more than the three-second “gay moment” that has flustered regulators in some other countries.
Disney refused, and pulled the film from release last Thursday in Malaysia.
In a Q&A published Sunday in the New Straits Times and widely quoted in other Malaysian media, Abdul Hamid said that the Censorship Board (known as the LPF) wanted to cut 4 minutes and 38 seconds from three different points in the film.
The first was during the performance of a song in which the character Le Fou hugs his hero, the villain Gaston, from behind. The second was of “suggestive song lyrics with sexual innuendos.” And the third was a scene at the end of the movie that Abdul Hamid declined to identify but that is most likely the bit in which Le Fou has what director Bill Condon calls a “gay moment.”
“The length of the [proposed cut to the] song was about three seconds, but we could not recommend a three-second cut as it would make the song choppy and people would be angry. The other cuts are on the actions,” said Abdul Hamid.
He also said that publicity surrounding the film and Condon’s statements had made the problem more acute for the censors. Abdul Hamid said the LPF’s curiosity had been raised by the homosexual elements introduced into the live-action film that were not present in the 1991 animated original. And he said that viewers had emailed the censors prior to the movie’s certification.
“Maybe if Condon had not mentioned the ‘gay element,’ people wouldn’t be so curious and we could let it go with a potentially minor cut. And this whole thing may not have been an issue. We at LPF want to preserve films as much as how they are intended by the director, but the moment the ‘gay element’ is thrown into the mix, we had to protect ourselves,” Abdul Hamid said in the published interview.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has often been proud of its racial diversity and moderate version of Islam, but in the current political climate, conservative forces are increasingly dominant and intolerant. Under fire, Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Razak has recently embraced the hard-line Islamic factions that he previously shunned in order to bolster his chances of winning the next general election. Gay sex is illegal in Malaysia under both the criminal code and sharia, or Islamic law. Najib Razak’s leading political opponent, Anwar Ibrahim, has twice been jailed on sodomy charges.
Quoted by official press agency Bernama this weekend, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed said: “Any films on LGBT [themes] the government will not allow, because the elements portrayed in the movie could influence us.”
“Malaysia does not recognize the LGBT ideology, so we have to be extra cautious in our work. If we let these scenes pass, people will wonder if Malaysia recognizes LGBT,” Abdul Hamid said in the New Straits Times Q&A.
Malaysia’s film bodies have made clear their position on LGBT matters in the past. In 2010, the Malaysian Producers Assn. said that gay characters would only be tolerated on film if they either repent or die.
Despite the LPF’s proposed cuts to “Beauty and the Beast,” Abdul Hamid said he personally found the film “very funny and entertaining.” He also explained that he had hoped to take his granddaughter to see the (edited) film on commercial release.
The LPF’s decision is likely to be heard on appeal Tuesday. The film will be screened for the Film Appeals Committee, which is a separate body but which also comes under the wing of the Home Ministry. The committee is made up of about 20 people, including education, information and police officials. Its decision is final and cannot be appealed.