Postbag: Living in a land of fear

Postbag: Living in a land of fear

A letter from Somsak Pola, published on Friday, is factually wrong as well as offensive and damaging to us.

While it is worth reminding there's no law against depicting the Oct 6 massacre on film, and a few Thai feature films have done so and passed the censors and had a general release, our film Shakespeare Must Die does not contain, in Mr Somsak's words, ''footage of the 1976 massacre near Thammasat''.

Mr Somsak is repeating a deliberate distortion by the National Board of Film and Video to justify their rejection of our appeal against the ban. On Nov 23, 2012, the Administrative Court accepted our case against the Film Board (Accused 1) and the Censorship Board (Accused 2), which cites this blatant slander as evidence of irregularity and a sign of political pressure.

The National Human Rights Commission has also found evidence of power abuse against our right to freedom of expression.

Shakespeare Must Die is a faithful Thai version of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. At least 95% of the screenplay is a word for word translation of this world classic on megalomania. The difference is in the ending.

In the play, Macbeth is killed, but in our film, after Macbeth is theatrically slain, the director of the play is hanged in a scene inspired by AP's Neal Ulevich's Pulitzer-winning photograph of an Oct 6 incident.

It is not meant to be, and neither did I ever insist that it was, ''a true representation of October 6'', as the Film Board claims.

We used it to invoke an echo of that nightmarish time, to remind the audience what tyranny and a propaganda-whipped lynch mob were once capable of. The film's intent is peaceful _ we show insanity to do our part to stop this insanity. Shakespeare must die because his art defies the lies and rule by fear of tyranny. Macbeth cannot be staged in a land ruled by a real-life Macbeth.

It took the censors a long time and three screenings to issue a verdict on the film. I had three meetings with them. Until they read the comments on our YouTube trailer, the censors didn't even know that the scene was inspired by Oct 6.

Their main concern was over our use of the colour red, especially on the lynch mob's headbands (a red headscarf is Thai folk opera uniform for a killer). They said it would ''make people misunderstand that the red shirts are prone to violence''. This was the big issue, both in the censors' room and for every Thai journalist who questioned us.

Oct 6 is, therefore, only the ''beard'' excuse, a politically correct spin to protect this government's democratic image. Their claims that our film is ''too violent'' only surfaced after the ban. Similarly, Nua Mek 2 is also being accused, after the ban, of being ''too violent''. This is lame and laughable, as anyone who has been to Thai cinemas and watched Thai TV knows.

What do Shakespeare Must Die and Nua Mek 2 have in common? They are both about sorcery-crazed tyrants and their spiritual corruption. This is why they are banned.

Mr Somsak confidently stated that ''the censors considered the scene gruesome and asked the movie producer to edit it. The producer refused and the rest is history. It had nothing to do with Thaksin''.

Such spin is an affront to all recent victims of oppression, from Nua Mek 2 and Shakespeare Must Die to Khao Khon Kon Khao, Thailand's then highest-rated nightly news show _ which was removed from TV Channel 9 without explanation last year _ and Somjit Navakrua-sunthorn of TV Channel 7, a victim of red-shirt intimidation and harassment after she asked a question that upset Thaksin's sister, our prime minister.

Being banned is not a joke. In this age of suspect motives, I do not deny there are people who set out to be censored to give themselves a veneer of political gravitas and artistic integrity. But genuine victims of censorship, of whatever creed and colour, whether by the lese majeste law or the film banning clause, are violated by the brutal process as surely as rape victims, their years of work locked in a coffin buried in the ground.

Unlike our case, most censorship in Thailand today leaves no paper trail. We're living in a land gripped by fear. Never mind small people like us, even Constitution Court judges and their families are threatened and an opposition lawyer is attacked by thugs and hospitalised. Propelled by fear, to preserve businesses, careers and life itself, self-censorship is rife. Where has Somsak Pola been living? There is no meaningful freedom of expression, not for the media and not for artists, under this government.

MANIT SRIWANICHPOOM
Producer of Shakespeare Must Die


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