Malaysia’s First Feature Film with Lead Gay Characters
In Malaysia consensual gay sex is illegal, a remnant of British colonial. Depictions of LGBT people are considered taboo and information disseminated by gay people is considered an insult to Islam.
However, last month ...Dalam Botol based on a novel by Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman appeared in 52 cinemas in Malaysia. The film, according to Sulaiman, is a love story, based on a friend. Therefore she feels nothing wrong with the movie's themes. The title means ...In a Bottle, originally it was titled Anu Dalam Botol - but "anu" the word for penis - was removed by censors, as was a nude scene.
The story concerns a young man who has gender reassignment surgery in order to please his male lover. However, he regrets his decision and eventually becomes involved with a woman. Oddly, both gay rights activists and conservative Muslim groups decry the film.
According to an article in The Guardian Alex, 28, an anonymous blogger who discusses gay themes worries about the film furthering anti-gay sentiment in Malaysia.
"The ending is very negative. Having the main character regret being gay and falling in love with a woman is not going to help our image problem here," said Alex.
Malaysia's film production code must depict LGBT characters who realize they are at fault for their sexuality, and reform themselves. When SFGN first learned of the film, we researched when it was coming to the U.S.
Scott Cranin, Managing Director/Content Marketing for TLA Releasing, one of the foremost distributors of LGBT films in the country, explained why you probably won't see the film here - or purchase it.
"Traditionally trans-themed films are a hard-sell in the U.S. market. Many international films with trans lead characters don't get picked up by American companies," said Cronin, who also acknowledged many international films with gay themes are simply overlooked by American distributors. "It's a tough market and this is the toughest sector."
He also said distributors might feel uncomfortable distributing a film where ultimately the main transgender character regrets their decision or is perceived in a negative light. TLA released a film in 2003 called Beautiful Boxer, about a Thai kickboxer who wishes to become a woman.
Other Asian countries are producing gay films in record numbers. The Philippines, according to Cronin, is an excellent example. He calls their LGBT-film movement "extraordinary."
However, despite the controversy surrounding the film in Malaysia, author Sulaiman defends her work as a love story - with a message.
"If my film has a message, it's please don't change yourself for love. My friend has suffered so much, and I don't want other people to suffer like him," she said of her friend who inspired the story.
After interviewing Cronin a Malaysian-based entertainment website announced the film was picked up by a prestigious New York City-based film distribution company. However, no company was named, despite the company supposedly paying $10 million for international and U.S. distribution rights. As Cronin has worked in the field of film distribution - with emphasis on gay-themed films - for over a decade SFGN asked for his thoughts on the matter.
"I think it's public relations hogwash. There is no US distributor listed on IMDB or on the film's own site. In fact it appears as if there is no sales agent or sold territories outside of Malaysia. According to actual box office figures the film has taken in about $350,000 in Malaysia - no American company is going to pay ten million dollars for the film," said Cronin. "Many gay, English language films are languishing right now without deals. The film business is constructed with a lot of smoke and mirrors."