MCI takes down Hari Raya short film after criticism of racial stereotypes

MCI said it decided to withdraw the video to avoid controversy and argument during the Hari Raya festive period. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has taken down a Hari Raya short film that was criticised by some online for portraying stereotypes of the Malay community.

In response to queries, MCI said it has noted public feedback regarding the video, which was titled Messages for Syawal. It is in Malay with English subtitles.

"At its heart, the video was about a family's journey of resilience in facing challenging circumstances, and how mutual support and encouragement could nurture the process," said the ministry.

"We understand that the takeaways from any creative work is subjective. While most Malay/Muslim viewers, including the many who viewed it prior to release, perceived the story to be heart-warming, some expressed reservations."

MCI added that the Hari Raya festive period "should foremost be an occasion to celebrate what binds us together as communities".

"To avoid controversy and argument at such a time, we decided to withdraw the video."

MCI did not say when the video was uploaded and taken down, or how many people had viewed it.

The 2½-minute video, which had been posted on various Gov.sg social media channels ahead of Hari Raya Aidilfitri on Tuesday (May 3), featured a Malay family living in financial difficulties.

It was also uploaded on the Our Tampines Hub Facebook page on April 28 where it was described as "an inspiring story based on the theme of social mobility and anchored on poetic and familiar Malay proverbs".

The video description said: "The message is about helping tenants progress on to home ownership, education support (Uplift) and the importance of dual-income households, while weaving in values like resilience and determination."

The father, played by veteran actor Johan Jaafar, works as a mover and his wife is a housewife. His young son, Syawal, is too embarrassed to invite his friends to the family's rental flat.

The son later skips school to distribute fliers and earn extra money. When his parents discover this, his mother decides to return to work and his father takes on a new job.

The film also features various government schemes, including the Uplift scheme to help students from lower-income backgrounds stay in school and grants to help rental flat tenants buy a Housing Board flat.

It ends with the family moving into a new flat and the message "may we celebrate a brighter tomorrow" along with a Hari Raya greeting.

Some netizens contrasted the Hari Raya video's sombre tone with Gov.sg's Chinese New Year 2022 video, which was a light-hearted and optimistic take on celebrating amid Covid-19 restrictions.

Others said the Hari Raya video did not focus on festivities and suggested families can celebrate only after achieving socio-economic success.

Instagram page Lepak Conversations, which posts content related to the Malay/Muslim community, said the video had portrayed Malays in a "reductive and condescending manner".

"It is tiring and hurtful to have to contend with narratives based on stereotypes and a lens that views our community as one that is always deficient," said the page.

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