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SATURDAY, MAY 22, 2010 SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
How the world’s largest Muslim nation deals with pornography. Hera Diani reports
The magniﬁcent obsession of Indonesia’s moral guardians
Young men leaf through the first edition of an Indonesian version of Playboy magazine at a newsstand in Jakarta. The magazine was released to widespread controversy in April 2006 even though it contained no nude photographs. Photo: AFP
he year is 2020. Islamic moral police reign supreme, prowling the streets of Indonesia on the lookout for anyone who might dare to defy a decade-old anti-pornography law. They makes arrests for even the most trivial violations – women wearing skirts with hems more than ten centimetres above the ankle, and people uttering the word “naked”, regardless of the context. The guilty are banished to a remote uninhabited island in the Indonesian archipelago. Little do the authorities know, however, that this is there where the seeds of a revolution will be planted. This “Big Brother” scenario is the basic plot of the upcoming musical Onrop! (porno spelled backwards) by Indonesian film director Joko Anwar. Now in production, Onrop! is a satirical take on the political and social controversies connected to pornography in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation but also a secular one. One such event was the uproar surrounding the publication of a toned-down Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine in 2006, which prompted angry militants to trash the publisher’s offices in the name of quashing pornography even though the magazine didn’t contain anything close to nudity. But that was just a warm up to the
controversial 2008 Anti-Pornography Law, an early draft of which would have had violators serving up to 10 years in jail for kissing in public. Not to be left out, religious police in the staunchly Muslim province of Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra Island, banned women from wearing “tight clothes” last year. Around the same time, Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring blamed the frequent earthquakes and natural disasters in Indonesia on immorality, and in February he suggested forming a special team to block websites containing pornographic materials. And earlier this month, there were protests by hard-line Islamic groups against the premiere of an Indonesian comedy featuring Japanese porn star Maria “Miyabi” Ozawa. The groups aborted the protests, and plans to trash any movie theatre showing the film after finding out it contained no sex scenes or nudity. So what’s the fuss about? Indonesia is theoretically a conservative Asian society, but dig below the surface and there’s the same amount of sex, lies and video tape as in any other nation. Joko said there is much hypocrisy attached to the pornography debate, as political and religious elements within society have made the word taboo without any clear standards or even a simple definition.
They said it looked like the women were in a threesome. People have such dirty minds
Joko Anwar, Indonesian filmmaker
“We can easily buy porn DVDs, which are literally sold on the streets [in many Indonesian cities]. There are also no rating restrictions at movie theatres, so children can watch movies that should only be viewed by adults,” he said, adding that back in the 1990s, titillating locally produced films with narratives about promiscuous sex and adultery dominated the cinema. Now, filmmakers like Joko face tight censorship regarding sex and nudity, but again, with no clear standards. A kissing scene made the cut in one of his films, but not in another. It depends on who at the government’s Film Censor Board is on duty on any given day. Bloody, violent scenes, however, have a lot easier time passing the censors than kissing or sex scenes, as gory locally produced horror films are extremely popular. Joko said some censors saw pornography where there was not the slightest intention to depict it. A poster for one of his films, a thriller called Forbidden Door, was banned because the picture of a man strangling a woman was deemed sexual. Another movie poster he made for a friend’s documentary was also banned on similar grounds. “The poster has a picture of an egg on the tip of an animal horn, which is an illustration of an Indonesian proverb
that means ‘living on the edge’. Inside the egg were three women in the fetal position. The censorship board said it looked like those women were engaging in a threesome. People have such dirty minds,” he said, shaking his head. Hari Nugroho, head of the sociology department at the University of Indonesia, said curiosity about pornography was common the world over. However, the Indonesian paradox, in which pornography is at once viewed as deeply immoral yet is widely available, was more common in conservative societies where sexuality is repressed by religion. “Cultural tradition alone does not necessarily repress sexuality,” he said. “In a conservative society like this, the attempt to draw sexuality away from the public sphere is stronger than in a more liberal society, where the expression of sexuality in public is an individual right.” Nugroho said there was a tug of war underway within Indonesian society on the issue. The struggle began following the collapse of the New Order regime of the late dictator Suharto in 1998, which dramatically opened space for democracy and individual expression, including sexually suggestive art, movies and magazines. Ironically during Suharto’s authoritarian regime, racy films were all
the rage. “The country is now more democratic, but does not have sufficient tools to regulate pornographic materials. The state then leaves the argument up to proponents who enjoy wealth from pornographyrelated businesses, and the opponents who want to uphold religious and ‘Eastern morality’ values,” Nugroho said. Other stakeholders in the debate include liberal Indonesians, and supporters of women’s rights and the protection of women. Indonesian women’s groups generally support regulations against pornography although they argue that the laws against pornography and immorality unfairly target women. Activist Andy Yentriyanti, an executive at the National Commission on Violence Against Women, said there are three groups that suffer the most amid the controversy over pornography: ethnic and religious minorities, women and artists. The Anti-Pornography Law, she said, was theoretically intended to crack down on the distribution of pornographic materials. But after opportunistic politicians and conservative religious groups were through with their proposals, the law was expanded to include a set of regulations that focus on morality. The law defines pornography as “sexual material made by people in
the forms of pictures, sketches, illustrations, photos, writings, voice, sounds, motion pictures, animation, cartoons, poems, conversations, body movements and other forms of communication through various mass media or public displays that can arouse sexual desires and/or violate public moral values”. For example, under the law, nude Balinese art or images of native tribespeople in Papua province can be considered pornographic. Despite the apparent flaws, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has struck down challenges to the anti-pornography law by dozens of different groups. “Indonesia is a very diverse country culturally, and the law wants to make it uniform. This is unconstitutional,” Yentriyanti said, adding that the commission was lobbying to ensure better implementation of its regulations. Joko said people were so obsessed with the “porn” buzz word that they forgot about other important national issues, including endemic corruption within the country’s government, legislature and judiciary, and widespread poverty. “Or perhaps focusing on pornography is the shortcut to show people that [politicians] are working. I mean, what’s the worst thing could happen from pornography? Corruption is much worse,” he said.
‘Young Obama’ in trouble playing left-handed table tennis
INDONESIA Associated Press in Bandung Young Barry Obama is struggling with his table tennis shots. Or rather, Hasan Faruq Ali is struggling to play left-handed in imitation of the character he is portraying in the Indonesian film Little Obama. “Hasan has the walk, he has the posture of Barry,” said Slamet Djanuadi, a consultant on the film and a childhood friend of US President Barack Obama when he lived in Indonesia from 1967 to 1971. “But Barry was a better ping-pong player.” The movie, produced by Multivision Plus, Indonesia’s largest production company, will premiere in Indonesia on June 17, the week of Obama’s anticipated visit to the country. The president postponed a planned visit in March to push through health care legislation. The film tells the story of Obama’s childhood in Jakarta, where he lived with his mother and Indonesian stepfather from the ages of six to 10. “It’s about his friendships, his hobbies, just a childhood story,” said screenwriter and co-director Damien Dematra. “It’s not about politics; it’s just the story of a boy.” Hasan, who was born in the United States but has lived in Indonesia since he was about two years old, was an obvious casting choice to play the young Obama. Fluent in English and the Bahasa Indonesia language, and the son of a white mother and African-American father, Hasan appeared perfect Improving his table-tennis game was the focus during breaks on the fifth day of filming, earlier this week. Day four’s challenge was boxing, a childhood pursuit the president has said he learned from his stepfather and one with which Hasan, with three years of karate training, felt more comfortable. “It feels great to play Obama,” the novice actor said with a grin. “I was shy about it at first and there are some new difficulties that you have to work to get over, with intense practice, like this” – gesturing toward the table on the lawn – “and just learning the lines, practicing the scenes. “But then it became easy and fun, especially acting as a very important character who left here to become president.” The main setting for the movie is a colonial-era house on the outskirts of Bandung, a city famed for its colonial architecture amid lush hilltops about 180km southeast of Jakarta. Directors John de Rantau and Dematra chose the city because it resembled Jakarta in the 1970s. Obama’s old home in the Jakarta neighbourhood of Menteng is now surrounded by tall apartment blocks and is too urban. The movie is taken from Dematra’s book Obama Anak Menteng (Obama, the Menteng Kid) a fictionalised biography based on interviews with about 30 old friends and neighbours. It is the first in a planned trilogy about Obama in Indonesia. The second book is to focus on his education at a Catholic school and the third on his relationship with his mother. “I just felt that this guy is an extraordinary person,” Dematra said. “The reason I’m doing this is I want people around the world to know that Obama can become who he is because of his background in Indonesia. “The different religions and races, the pressures that he had. I want the film to inspire people.” Two of Obama’s old friends, Djanuadi and his brother, Yuniadi, whose family shared a house with Obama’s, are coaching Hasan on everything from sports to Obama’s relationships with his mother and stepfather. “It takes us back to the past, teaching Hasan and remembering the games we played together, flying kites, Monopoly, puzzles,” Djanuadi said. “Barry would probably like this movie for the same reasons, to recall his memories.” Hasan, the child actor, is not quite as chubby as Obama was, Djanuadi and his brother say, despite his efforts to grow into his character by eating extra meals and giving up karate practice. Now in costume – muddied shorts and T-shirt and a bandage around his leg from a playground scuffle the fictional Obama had – Hasan waits for his next scene to be filmed, dribbling a soccer ball like a born actress, said she took her role as Obama’s mother seriously. “His mum was so strong, she knew her son would be put through hardship and she helped him through that,” Lachelle said. “I am very careful about the way I portray her, to do justice to them both.” Indonesian actor Eko Noah plays Lolo Soetoro, Obama’s stepfather. The directors hope to finish shooting on June 3, in time for its scheduled premiere. Everyone involved hopes Obama will watch it, including the directors, actors and the childhood neighbours – the same ones who played pingpong with him for hours. As for Hasan, he said he carried two things from the movie, the inspiration to follow his dreams and Obama’s smile. “Before, I was a guy that kept to myself. But in acting, I’m trying to be like the guy in the pictures, who looks like he likes to be around friends and is always smiling,” Hasan said. “And now, even when I’m not acting, I can’t help it but I definitely notice I smile a lot more.”
John De Rantau and Hasan Faruq Ali filming Little Obama. Photo: AP basketball and pretending to shoot at an imaginary basket. “President!” the director calls out, amid laughter, summoning Hasan to the living room for his next take. Over and over, for nearly an hour, he carries a soccer ball into the room, calling out for his parents before meeting them in the hallway and looking distressed upon seeing they’ve been arguing. Finally, after several takes, it’s a wrap. Shakur Ali, Hasan’s father, watched from a window. He said the first time he watched Hasan act, it brought tears to his eyes. “I was shocked to see the change, to see him become this person,” said Ali, who has not followed US politics and said it didn’t matter to him that his son was playing Obama but just that he was following his dream of being a performer. Cara Lachelle, a South African-
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