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A furious row has broken out in the Malaysian film industry with at least one film maker returning awards that he previously won.

In recent days it has emerged that the annual Filem Festival Malaysia awards will be segregated along linguistic lines. Only movies shot in the official Bahasa Malaysia (aka Bahasa Melayu) language will be eligible for the best film award.

Malaysia has a substantially mixed race population comprised of ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indians. The national government operates policies in sectors ranging from universities to the civil service that discriminate positively in favor of Malays. The privileges accorded to one group over another are widely regarded as among the root causes of Malaysia’s endemic corruption problems.

The spark for the current strife was the recent exclusion from the best picture category of two films — Chiu Keng Guan’s “Ola Bola” and Shanjhey Kumar Perumal’s “Jagat” — in nominations for this year’s 28th edition of the FFM (Sept. 1-3). Instead they are nominated in a best picture (non Bahasa Malaysia) category. The separation has existed since 2011. Though the country produces films in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil, to qualify for best picture they must have 70% of their dialog in Bahasa Malaysia.

This year government film regulator, the National Film Development Corporation (FINAS,) and the Malaysian Film Producers’ Association (PFM) also added language based categories in the best screenplay and best director categories. The two bodies said that the new categories were being created in recognition of growing Tamil and Chinese film production. Others interpret the division as creating second class awards and protecting the top prizes for Malays.

As a protest, leading cinematographer Mohd Noor Kasim this week returned two trophies to Kamil Othman, the chairman of FINAS. The seven times nominee also asked that his nomination in this year’s event be withdrawn. Actor Afdlin Shauki said that he would also withdraw.

“I am Malay but I say, [it appears] the Malays fear competition with other races. I am ashamed as a Malay. Why do we fear healthy competition? Why differentiate with Chinese and Indian? In film, the language of film is what’s important,” Kasim told the Malay Mail Online.

Artistes association Karyawan said that it is in favor of segregation. “Many films in other languages produced locally are high in quality and have managed to rake in high film proceeds. Therefore, Karyawan fully agrees with PFM’s suggestion to divide the category into ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best Non-Bahasa Malaysia Film’ as the solution to the problem that has risen. With the division of the best film category, not only will non-Bahasa Malaysia films be given recognition but the number of films to win awards will increase,” Karyawan said in a statement.

Like Mandarin Chinese (aka Putonghua,) Bahasa Malaysia, is a linguistic standardization based on the dialect of a single region. Using a Latin alphabet, it became the official language of Malaysia from 1968.