Malaysia film awards fest scores own goal with Ola Bola's disqualification
IT IS a no-brainer that Malaysian fan favourite Ola Bola should be the country's best picture of the year.
But the movie has been disqualified from the Film Festival Malaysia (FFM) as it is not entirely in Bahasa Malaysia.
This has happened because the organisers of the annual festival have tied themselves up with inflexible rules.
The rule in question is that the movie dialogue must be 70 per cent in Bahasa Malaysia to be eligible for nominations.
It was a reflection of the monoethnic local film industry of the past, when no one thought that local movies in Mandarin or Tamil would emerge, or in the case of Ola Bola - a mix of Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, Tamil and English.
In short, Malaysia has changed but FFM hasn't.
The movie has won accolades, scored at the box office and gained the support of all races.
So the FFM, stuck with its archaic rules, has now found itself in a controversy and worse, accused of being racist - though that is a little harsh.
Non-Malay directors have won previously.
But the arguments put forth have been flimsy.
Does it mean that if someone were to make a movie about the Tang dynasty in China or geishas of Japan with a script fully in Bahasa Malaysia, the movie would be acceptable, even though it has nothing to do with Malaysia?
A movie about Malaysia and Malaysians, produced and directed by Malaysians, and acted by Malaysians isn't "Malaysian enough" because it has a mixture of languages and dialects spoken by Malaysians?
Director Chiu Keng Guan's movie Ola Bola was inspired by the multiracial Malaysian football team who qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
The Malaysian Film Producers Association (PFM) said the segregation of award categories in FFM is based on language, saying it has to uphold Bahasa Malaysia in local films.
According to press reports, within just 18 days of its release in cinemas nationwide as well as in Brunei, the football-themed movie had made more than RM12 million (S$4 million).
Last week, prominent banker Nazir Razak openly supported the call by comedian Afdlin Shauki to boycott the FFM.
In a post on his Instagram account, the CIMB chairman questioned the language division for the Best Picture category in the national film awards ceremony.
"I was aghast to hear that my favourite, Ola Bola, and others can't compete for best Malaysian movie. Why the segregation?" he wrote.
AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes has joined in to support the move.
"When will we realise our strength against the world is our diversity? Come on Malaysia. The world is changing," he said in a comment on Mr Nazir's Instagram post.
The decision of the FFM, even with good intentions, is perhaps not well thought through.
Arts, like sports, is about bridging people and surely not dividing and sub-dividing them into categories.
Malaysians have had enough of politics and religion being used to divide the country.
Surely, the arts should and must remain a platform for keeping Malaysia and Malaysians together still.
I am reminded of the final scene in Ola Bola when Soh Chin Aun, who played the role of the older Chow Kwok Keong, was interviewed.
Asked how the team were so united, he said: "We speak different languages but we all sing the same song."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK