Friday, April 22, 2011

Manit Sriwanichpoom, “Insects in the Backyard”

Manit Sriwanichpoom, “Insects in the Backyard,” in the Silpa Wattanatham Column of Siamrath Weekly News Magazine, Yr.58, Vol.30, 15 – 21 April, 2011.

The accusations of a ‘double standard,’ or a ‘lack of any standard’ against the National Film and Video Board – of which the prime minister is the chairman – in the Department of Cultural Promotion of the Ministry of Culture, seems to carry much more weight lately after the The Legend of Somdej Naresuan Maharaj:Part 3, the Naval Battle, a well-connected historical film, received a subsidy of almost 400 million baht of the taxpayer’s money.

The film received a rating of ‘sor’, or ‘Promote’, which means that it is a film which all Thai people, whether children or adults, should be encouraged to see, despite the fact that the film contains scenes of bloody violence overflowing on the screen, images of opium smoking and visits to brothels, and content which is nationalist-monarchist propaganda going far beyond any confirmed historical fact. This film’s grand opening took place on 25 March, 2011 at the Sala Chalermkrung Theatre.

Three days later, at another pole of society entirely, the Administrative Court on Chaeng Wattana road heard a suit brought by the makers of a little film created on a private budget of 400,000 baht, “Insects in the Backyard,” by Tanyawarin Sukapisit (the director and writer who also played the leading role of a transgendered father).

Tanyawarin was in court with representatives of the Network of Film Audiences and volunteer lawyers. They found it necessary to make the journey to this court in search of justice because their film had been banned and forbidden from screening in Thailand for reasons given as follows:

“The National Film and Video Board has judged this film to have content generally expressing characteristics concerning sexual relations between males and males, females and females and males and females; as well as smoking cigarettes; youths in school uniforms drinking alcohol in many scenes; and the sale of sexual favors by uniformed schoolboys. The film is dominated by the expression of improprieties such as images of young girls and boys making a living by selling themselves in prostitution. They are not shown to seek other ways of solving their problems. There are scenes in which young boys in their school uniforms offer sexual services.

Children are seen being taught how to smoke, drink and engage in ‘petting’ or vulgar conversation. And there are scenes presented of the father being killed. Even in a dream sequence, such a scene is inappropriate. The board is of the opinion that the main content of this film concerns expressions of sexual relations which are inappropriate in Thai society. They also could lead audiences and society, even people who are 20 years of age or older, into misunderstandings. People might, for example, imitate this behavior, sell sexual services, or do other inappropriate behaviors offensive to the good morals of Thai people. The National Film and Video Board does not permit the film, Insects in the Backyard to be screened publicly because it offends the good morals of the people. The appeal to the court [by the plaintiffs] is therefore rejected.”

I was very pleased that Khun Tanyawarin (the first plaintiff) and the Network of Film Audiences (the second plaintiff) put up a fight and were unwilling to give up their rights and freedoms, as guaranteed in the constitution, in the face of the censorship board’s incredibly nebulous, vague, narrow-minded and prejudicial objections.

I had a chance to read the suit which was brought against the National Film and Video Board – of which the prime minister is chairman – and the Board of Censors. I read it and was impressed by the well-reasoned and firm exposition, backed by the principles of law to which we should hold firmly. This is an example to future Thai film directors if they likewise do not obtain justice from the authorities.

I’d like to quote for you from page 44 of the suit, which shows the good intentions and determination of the film’s director:
“4.2.1 The party against whom the suit is filed has stated that the film has content which generally expresses character and content about sexual relations between males and males, females and females, and males and females as well. The plaintiff (1) wishes to explain that actually, the content of this film is about relationships in families. The story is told through the experience of one family, i.e. a father (Tanya), a mother (Sarah), the daughter (Jenny) and the son (Johnny). But the mother dies while giving birth to the boy. So the father is left to take on the role of looking after the two children by himself. But the father in this story is different from fathers in other families. That is, his body is characteristically male, but his sexuality is feminine. He likes to dress as a woman, and imagines having sex with a man. And he has other characteristics which society deems appropriate in women, i.e. he is compassionate. He loves and takes good care of the children.

Even though he is kind and very caring, and works at his family duties wholeheartedly, his two children do not accept their father under such conditions. They tell other people that he is their older sister, Tanya. The two children’s inability to understand their situation pushes them to leave home and to try to live in their own world. The daughter leaves and goes with a male friend who sells sex services to other men. Looking for ways to earn money, she begins willingly to sell sex services as well. Though she doesn’t really understand what she is doing, because she cares for her lover, and wants to help carry the burden of earning their living, and also by desire to find the meaning of such actions, she chooses this path. The son, who is just becoming a teenager, is at a turning point in his life. His mind and heart are in a state of confusion regarding his father. He decides to follow his sister and begins selling sex services to men.
In the end, there is an important change which makes the daughter know that, whatever ones sexuality is, the love and intimacy which human beings feel for one another is what is important. As for the son, the film communicates that actually, he is just a child who needs warmth and affection. He begins to better understand his father and the state of sexual preferences in society as he sells sex to various men, of whom there are many types.

The above summary shows that the film’s characteristics reasonably connect the various scenes together into a story which develops with reason and logic. It is not to be understood as disconnected images taken in isolation of each other. It is clear that the content altogether tries to communicate the problem of a lack of acceptance of the diversity of sexuality which actually exists in society. It is this lack of acceptance which creates problems for this broken family.

About the number of scenes which actually concern sexual relations, there are only 5, and each one is on-screen for only a few seconds. These scenes simply show the meaning of the story: they are not grossly erotic or pornographic images in the least. In fact, the film has far fewer of these kinds of scenes than in other films which have received permission to be screened in Thailand. Hence the plaintiff (1) claims that the overall content of Insects in the Backyard does not center on the sexual expressions of homosexuals, whether male or female, or heterosexuals, contrary to the claims of the party against whom this suit was brought.

4.2.2 The judgment of the first party against whom this suit has been brought specifies that there is a scene in which the father is killed, and that whether it was a dream or not, there should be no such scene. Regarding this, the plaintiff (1) wishes to state that the image of a son so hating his father that he could actually kill him is recorded in the Greek legend of Oedipus, which Sigmund Freud, an Austrian psychologist used as a basis in his analysis of the human psyche. His ideas were developed into Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex which states that these feelings are only just that – i.e. one of the normal feelings which happen as part of the development of growing children. It is a complex which fades away with maturity and is not a long term issue. Furthermore, the scene of killing a parent occurs in Thai literature in many stories, for example, Torapi – Torapa: the packet of rice was too small so he killed his mother. And such scenes have occurred in many Thai and foreign films.

As for this film, the scene in which the son kills his father is only one of the scenes in the dream, regarding which the plaintiff (1) tries to communicate and show that the son is extremely constrained and that he greatly misunderstands his father simply because his father is a person whose sexuality does not fit the model set by society. The boy did not actually intend to really kill his father. Plaintiff (1) tries to show that these problems arise in society because of varieties of sexualityand tries to explain by this scene. After he ‘kills’ his father in the dream, the boy actually goes to his [real] father and embraces him. This shows that in his heart, the boy still loves and feels attached to his father. After he awakens from his dream, the boy feels good.

The actor who plays the boy expresses emotions of both guilt and satisfaction together very well. He seeks comfort and consolation from someone near to him by embracing him. This film provides a way to deal with this issue. It doesn’t suggest that actually killing ones father is good, but rather that to do so would not be good. Those against whom this suit has been brought point out that killing ones father goes against good morals, but stories of fathers being killed occur repeatedly in the literature of all ages. When one considers the source and the result of the deed, and the state of mind of the character in the film, the scene of the killing of the father (as characterized in the foregoing) isn’t something that will lead the morals of people down or corrupt relations between fathers and their children. The plaintiffs therefore do not agree with the reasons of those against whom this suit has been raised.

4.2.4 The order by those against whom this suit has been brought forward states that the primary expressive content of the film moves in a wrong direction. For example, the boy and girl enter into prostitution rather than attempting to solve their problems through other means and remedies. The plaintiff urged the court that if one considers the reason and factors which pushed the children to choose prostitution, one will find that it happens because the characters do not accept their father who has the tastes of a woman and who dresses as one. It makes them choose to go out in search of love and care from others. Jenny soon meets a man who proposes to her. She agrees to be a prostitute in exchange for staying with that man.

Johnny leaves home to stay in a game shop, as young boys of that age might do nowadays, until by chance he meets another boy who persuades him to sell his body for sexual services. They have no families to give them stability. Johnny, therefore, ends up prostituting himself. The path chosen by the two boys reflects the importance of families and of accepting in society today the third sex, which does in fact exist.

The two children ran away from home because they could not accept the unorthodox sexuality of their father. Then they experienced the reality of sex in the wider world. In fact, they both preferred members of the opposite sex as objects of their own desires. The story illustrates how people might learn to better accept someone’s identity, whatever his or her sexual orientation may be. The characters who prostitute themselves in this story show by the expressions on their faces and by their words, many times, that they are not happy with what they are doing. The story does not promote prostitution in any way as a desirable choice when seeking a way out of personal troubles.

It’s very sad for someone who makes Thai films, like Tanyawarin Sukaphisit, who wishes society well but lacks big connections. Not only is the filmmaker not congratulated or promoted, but quite the opposite. He is ‘shot down,’ in a manner of speaking, spitefully used and defamed, in short, dismissed as a nuisance, as if he were an insect in the backyard.

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