The Thai adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” has hit a raw nerve among film censors, with Thai officials this month banning the movie “Shakespeare Must Die,” even though it was partially funded by the Thai government.
The censors claimed the movie would cause “divisiveness” in a country that’s endured bouts of political instability. But the ban on the movie has ignited debates, exposing the very rifts the censors feared.
Local language websites and social networking sites have been venues for such debates. Thailand’s two English-language daily newspapers have now also weighed in with their comments on the Film Board’s April 3 decision prohibiting producers from screening the movie.
Thailand kills Shakespeare
“Are we really so scared of our own shadow?” asks The Nation, adding that the ban reflects the country’s fragility. “It is yet another case of the lack of freedom of expression here: Shakespeare has been killed in Thailand!” it declares. Harrumphed the Bangkok Post, “As if (Thailand is) so simple-minded that one movie would bring the whole house down. If you haven’t noticed, the house is already on fire, so at least allow us to enjoy a film while it lasts.”
Director Saranrat “Ing K” Kanjanavanich describes her film as “a tale of politics and black magic, translated into Thai directly and exactly from ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ with some cinematic and Thai cultural adaptations. It takes place in two parallel worlds: inside the theater, the world of the play about the ambitious general who becomes king through murder, and the ‘outside world’ in the contemporary lives of a non-specific country’s superstitious, megalomaniacal and murderous dictator … ”
The movie does hit close to home, as it features actual images from the October 1976 student uprising in Bangkok and the May 2010 violent dispersal of pro-Thaksin red shirt protesters in the capital. (Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a coup in 2006 but he remains hugely popular. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is now Thailand’s prime minister).
‘Censorship is medieval’
The movie’s political content notwithstanding, there is no justification for a ban, Thai newspapers say. “The point now is not if the film is anti-this or pro-that. The point is freedom of expression,” says the Bangkok Post. “This much is clear: Film censorship is medieval in an age when you can watch a film while riding in an elevator or on your phone while stuck in traffic. Film, in a sense, is now free.”
“It is not just the infringement on freedom (of expression) that is worrisome, but also the fragility of our nation,” argues an opinion piece in The Nation. “When we believe that a film could create divisiveness in an already fractured nation, it is a telltale sign of our condition. Thailand has come to the point where the universal themes of ambition, greed and power, explored in a fictional setting, are seen as a threat to ‘national security’.”
The movie’s producers say they will appeal the ban.