#LookAtMe film by Ken Kwek barred from being screened in S’pore over potential to cause social division

A still from Ken Kwek's film #LookAtMe. PHOTO: EKO PICTURES

SINGAPORE - A film by local film-maker Ken Kwek that premiered in New York in July has been barred from being screened in Singapore, with the authorities assessing it as having the potential to cause enmity and social division.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), which classifies films, said on Monday that it had assessed the #LookAtMe film as having exceeded the Film Classification Guidelines because “it denigrates a religious community”.

It also consulted the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, which both agreed that the film should be refused classification. It had also sought the views of its advisory committees, which represent the views of the community.

The film is set in Singapore and revolves around the protagonist, who is offended by a pastor’s stance on homosexuality. The film also indicates, in its opening frame, that it is “inspired by true events”, noted the agencies.

In a joint statement on Monday, the three agencies said that the film has the potential to cause enmity and social division here as the Singapore pastor preaches against homosexuality but engages in behaviour that goes against his religious teachings.

They added that the reference to “true events” implies that leaders of the local religious community have engaged in such behaviour. The protagonist, who makes a viral video about the male pastor that leads to adverse consequences on his life and his family’s, considers plotting a revenge attack on the religious figure.

The statement added that various descriptions of the pastor, including a similar sounding title, are suggestive of a real pastor in Singapore and people in Singapore may draw that connection. The context may be seen to be suggesting or encouraging violence against the pastor.

The agencies also said that the pastor is portrayed engaging in an act prohibited by his professed religious faith. These allegations may be perceived to be offensive, defamatory, and contrary to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, in that it may be seen as unfairly attacking a religious figure, as well as cause offence to religious beliefs, they added.

Mr Kwek was the show film director for the 2022 National Day Parade. He is also a former Straits Times journalist.

#LookAtMe is his second feature film, which made its world premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival in July.

The #LookAtMe cast includes artistes yao, formerly known as Thomas Pang, Adrian Pang, Pam Oei and Ching Shu Yi.

Director and playwright Kwek is known for his irreverent comedies and social satires. His first feature, Unlucky Plaza (2014), premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won him Best Director at the Tehran Jasmine Film Festival.

Mr Kwek and the film’s producers said in a statement that they were disappointed by the authorities’ decision and will be submitting an appeal to IMDA to reconsider its classification.

They said that the film is a “work of cinematic fiction” that seeks to “entertain and encourage conversations on important social issues that are relevant to Singapore”.

As the film has been selected for the 2022 edition of the Singapore International Film Festival, the team said it hoped the IMDA will reverse the ban in time for the film’s planned screening in December and subsequent general release.

Under the Film Classification Guidelines, any material that is denigrating to racial or religious communities in Singapore will be refused classification, said the statement.

The guidelines also state that classification should be sensitive to the concerns of different racial or religious groups and the need to safeguard racial and religious harmony.

Films that are refused classification in Singapore are effectively banned as they cannot be legally sold, rented, possessed, imported or made public in the country.

In May, a controversial Hindi-language film The Kashmir Files, was also refused classification by the authorities over its potential to cause enmity between different communities and disrupt religious harmony here.

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