Letter of Appeal to the National Board of Film and Video
Written at …[cut]
17 April 2012
Re: An appeal to overturn the ban on the distribution of the Thai film, ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, in the kingdom.
Addressed to: H.E. the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra
Chairperson of the National Board of Film and Video
Enclosed/attached: 1. Copy of the Censorship Board’s record of film inspection.
2. List of co-complainants including their comments.
3. News reports both domestic and international.
4. DVD of television media on the ban issue.
5. Samples of opinions from viewers who had seen the trailer on YouTube.
Regarding the Film Censorship Board (3rd Committee)’s banning order on the Thai film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, on April 3, 2012, citing as justification for the ban that the film “has content that causes disunity among the people of the nation, according to ministerial regulation describing types of motion pictures, 2009, Article 7(3) (please refer to enclosed document)
I, Mr Manit Sriwanichpoom, producer, and Ms Smanrat Kanjanavanit, director, of the film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, believe that the above verdict is unjust, extreme, unreasonable, based on false foundations and could be considered discriminatory.
Therefore, along with 514 co-complainants (please refer to enclosed document), we hereby file our appeal respectfully to you, the Prime Minister, in your capacity as chairperson of the National Board of Film and Video, to overturn the said ban on distribution, and permit ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ to have right of distribution in the kingdom, a right enjoyed by other films. Our objections against the grave accusation of the verdict are as follows:
1. ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ is a Thai film that promotes ethics and morality.
Translated and adapted from ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’, a play by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), considered the world’s greatest poet, the story may be summed up by the synopsis and treatment exactly as submitted in our funding request proposal to the Creative Thailand film fund in 2010:
Synopsis: A tale of politics and black magic, translated into Thai directly and exactly from William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’, with some cinematic and Thai cultural adaptations, this “Shakespearean horror movie” takes place in two parallel worlds: inside the theatre, the world of the play about the ambitious and bloody general who becomes king by murder, and the ‘outside world’ in the contemporary lives of the (non-specific) country’s superstitious, megalomaniacal, and murderous dictator, known only as ‘Dear Leader’, and his scary high society wife. Events in the twin worlds mirror and soon bleed into each other until they catastrophically collide, when the players must pay dearly for staging such a play in a society ruled by such a man. What were they thinking, to fight fear with art?
Treatment: In these so-called post-modern times in contemporary art and media, which extol ostensibly non-judgemental ambiguity both ethical and narrative, there is a hunger for full-blooded, ferocious art that does not shy away from meaty issues of spiritual corruption, of right and wrong. No writer answers this need so perfectly and passionately as William Shakespeare.
‘Shakespeare Must Die’ was inspired by and takes nearly all its script from William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’, the story of a highly successful, capable man, whose limitless ambition is yet unsatisfied. Aided by his “fiend-like” wife, their insatiable desires lead them to lose it all--each other, their own sanity and life, to their own dark side, and what a waste. Therein lies the tragedy, when the hero and the villain (and heroine and villainess) are one and the same person…[Macbeth’s storyline, cut]
…[the departure from the original play is this:] the play as performed in the theatre in the film ends with Macbeth’s death, but in ‘the contemporary real world’ [running parallel to it], a group of Dear Leader’s fanatical followers, enraged by this perceived affront against their idol, rush into the theatre to massacre the actors and their audience. The violence culminates in the play’s director being dragged outside and hanged in front of the theatre, amidst the cheering hooligan mob. Shakespeare must die because art cannot be allowed to work its truthful magic; its duty to reveal the truth threatens the foundations of tyrannical power.
The film ends with Dear Leader appearing on television announcing Emergency Rule; he has achieved full dictatorship over all the mechanics of government power, as if to laugh to scorn the artists’ faith in art as immunity against the virus of fear.
‘Macbeth’ both in the original version and in the film, is a parable or morality play that teaches the viewer the consequences of moral corruption. When Macbeth transgresses the sacred laws of the universe, he must bear the karmic consequences of the crimes that he committed against his own soul and his homeland. The entire story focuses on the struggle between good and evil within Macbeth himself. It is a tragedy because he makes decisions based on his greed, desires, his paranoia and senselessness.
For this reason, ‘Macbeth’ is enthroned in the literature syllabus for middle school children in every English-speaking country in the world. Countless generations of fifteen year old kids in England, America and Australia have been tested on Macbeth in national examinations. This is why the banning of a Thai filmed version of ‘Macbeth’ has been greeted with amazement by people across the globe, casting shame on the image of Thailand, as people question our democracy credentials. Are we really ruled by democracy? Why must we ban a film based on a 400 year old play that condemns dictatorial tyranny? It is hardly surprising then that the banning of ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ by the Thai government has become comical international news (please see accompanying file of news clips from both domestic and foreign media).
2. ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ received 3 million baht from the Thai government’s film fund.
The film was supported by the Creative Thailand film fund through the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, under the Ministry of Culture’s auspices. It was the last film to receive funding, as some funding committee members had concerns about the scene wherein Macbeth kills King Duncan. We had to shoot the scene to show the committee that it bears no content that would defame or malign the king according to Article 112.
After the committee had viewed the raw footage of the scene, every take of which we sent to them, uncut, with sync sound, from the moment the camera began rolling to cut, the committee’s perception was that the film had good intentions towards humanity, since it’s concerned with “spiritual morality and karmic retribution”, and that the film harboured no ill will towards the highest institution whatsoever. They therefore decided to award funding to ‘Shakespeare Must Die’.
It may be remarked that in the past few years, some historical Thai films have presented scenes of regicide by power-grabbers in Thailand (not a fictitious country as in ‘Shakespeare Must Die’), for instance the epics ‘Suriyothai’ and ‘The Legend of King Naresuan’. But these films never came under accusation of the crime of lese majeste. On the contrary, they were given the ‘Sor Sua Songserm’ rating (recommended for viewing by the general public) and promoted to school children.
3. ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ is well-meaning and promotes genuine and sustainable reconciliation.
Good intentions towards humanity formed the moral compass of every member of the cast and crew of ‘Shakespeare Must Die’. Not a single person harboured a malicious will to promote divisiveness, hatred and rage. Even if ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ had never existed in the world, Thai society is already full of people who propagate these evils on a grand scale. In such a context, it is nonsensical, unreasonable and unrighteous in the extreme to accuse or misunderstand the film as destructive to national unity.
Under question is the much-discussed “October 6th” scene”, inspired by the AP photograph taken by Neal Ulevich of the massacre of students on October 6, 1976, which appears in the film’s trailer on YouTube. (Viewer numbers have risen to over 92,000, which proves that the banning of a film does not have the result desired by the Censorship Board. In fact, it has aroused public interest and indignation against the ban.)
If you watch the entire scene in the full film, you will see that neither the director, the camera nor the editing focuses upon the murderer and the hanging corpse. The focus of the scene is on the faces and reactions, the expression of satisfaction and frenzied fury, of the spectators who are laughing and cheering on the violence erupting before their very eyes. (This matches the behaviour of the Thai mob in the AP photograph.) It is clear from this that the film wishes to arouse the conscience of the audience, who might be reminded that this terrible scene did really happen in our past, when the people allowed themselves to be hypnotized and incited by malicious propaganda by those who wanted to see us kill each other. It is our hope that the audience would be sickened by the scene and by what happened in October 1976, and agree with us that it would be senseless for us to kill each other again in this way.
Thus, far from provoking divisiveness and rage by “picking at an old scar of the past”, our intent is peaceful and serves to promote genuine and long-lasting reconciliation.
Kindly note that not long ago, a film named ‘Haunted Universities’ also depicted October 6 events in the context of a horror movie, including the realistic re-enactment of the killing of students. But this film was permitted to be distributed in the normal way. So far as we know, no accusation of historical distortion was ever raised, either by the Board or the public.
Another question raised by the Film Board of Censorship (3rd Committee) to us concerns the extensive use of the colour red in the film.
Let’s quote the first two sentences in the introduction to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s edition of Macbeth: “Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest, quickest tragedy. Its colours are black and red.” This is an obvious thing about this play and dictated our colour palette for the film: black for night and darkness, red for blood and violence; the red that is constantly mentioned in the play, from blood-stained hands to the sea so dyed with blood that it turns from green to red.
Without prejudice, you would clearly see that the lynching men in red headband are wearing a well-known Thai folk opera (Likay) uniform: red head scarf is Thai theatrical shorthand for Executioner, and not so long ago Thai executioners used to wear this for the job of beheading people. The colour red here is merely the universal symbol for violence. In the film, killers in the world of the theatre in earlier scenes, including Death, also wear red headbands (or hood). In another, real world scene, a different kind of uniform is used for Lady Macduff’s killers, namely synthetic grey, black or dark blue safari suits—contemporary Thai shorthand for henchmen, usually worn by politicians’ drivers and security guards, for instance.
It is notable that the list of people who have signed their names as co-complainants against the ban on ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ includes the names of several people who consider themselves ‘red shirts’, alongside the names of prominent artists, writers, academics and the general public who are united in their disagreement with this infringement of democratic freedom committed against Thai cinema. Regardless of whether they agree with or like the film’s contents or not, it is a matter of principles, and it infringes on their rights as consumers of cinema.
4. The intent of the Royal Edict on Film and Video, 2009, the present law, is to give importance to the rating system, to ensure the rights and freedoms of the people, in place of the old bill of 1930, which employed dictatorial measures like the banning of films.
To conclude, you will see from all the above reasons that the banning of the Thai film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ is not merely a little thing that’s happening to a single little film. This is about freedom of expression for the media and the arts. There is concern in many quarters that similar exercises of the dictatorial power to ban films will be repeated endlessly as had happened in the past. The banning of any individual film is not only the infringement of the right to freedom of expression of those particular filmmakers, as guaranteed by a democratic constitution, but also infringes the constitutional right of every member of the Thai public to experience those same arts and media. Furthermore, ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ was made possible by the support of public money, from a fund intended for the seedling of creative, thought-provoking Thai cinema; films that, left to the industry’s devices, might not have been born.
Accordingly we lodge this appeal with Your Excellency the Chairperson, to consider overturning the verdict banning the film ‘Shakespeare Must Die’ from distribution in the kingdom of Thailand, and permit the film to be distributed as normally, under suitable classification by the rating system as deemed fit by you.
For your kind consideration.
Mr Manit Sriwanichpoom Ms Smanrat Kanjanavanit
Cellphone: 085 199 4050