BANGKOK – The banning of a Thai cinema adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ is causing a stir in Thailand, after censors ruled that the movie “has content that causes divisiveness among the people of the nation”.
In a country where royalty is shielded by possibly the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws, a drama featuring regicide might be deemed taboo in some quarters, but Shakespeare Must Die seems also to have touched a raw nerve – with its angle on the playwright’s ambitious but guilt-ridden Scottish usurper blended in with scenes of protest and violence redolent of Thailand’s recent past.
The country has been beset by on-off street protests since 2005, and to some, the ‘Macbeth’ character in the movie is reminiscent of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose apparent vaulting ambition prompted royalist suspicions that he had a real-life anti-monarchy agenda.
Thailand’s Culture Ministry told director Samanrat Kanjanavanit that she could only proceed with a bowdlerised version of the government-funded movie, but the filmmakers held their ground.
A red-clad Grim Reaper in the movie was deemed too evocative of redshirt demonstrators that took to Bangkok’s streets in 2010, in protests that turned violent with over 90 killed over 2 months, while other scenes linking to a gruesome massacre of student demonstrators in 1976 was deemed taboo.
Director Samanrat, better known as Ing K., told the Monitor that the film stuck to the colour codings used in Shakespeare’s original, wondering “why do they (the censors) find a 400 year dead poet so threatening?” The original Macbeth was penned during a fractious period in English history, probably shortly after the 1605 ‘Gunpowder Plot’, when Catholics aggrieved at religious discrimination sought to assassinate England’s King, James I, a Protestant Scot.
Now 4 centuries later, Thailand’s volatile politics could hold the key to the censors’ anxiety over a now-archetypal tale about how power corrupts man. Thaksin was ousted from office in a 2006 coup backed by royalist street protestors and faces jail in Thailand for corruption charges. Now, however, his sister Yingluck is the country’s Prime Minister, after her Peua Thai party routed royalist-leaning Democrats in a 2011 election.
Thailand’s 84 year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s longest-sitting monarch and remains popular despite the country’s polarisation, drawing vast crowds onto Bangkok’s streets last December for his birthday celebrations. But the combination of colour-coded antagonism (“red-shirts” for pro-Thaksin demonstrators, “yellow-shirts” for royalists) and the King’s age makes for nervy bureaucrats, it seems, and the proscribing of the movie comes after several recent high-profile jailings for lese-majeste in Thailand, where defamation of the King and his immediate family is outlawed.
While Yingluck’s government has sparked renewed royalist ire by floating ideas about allowing Thaksin to return to Thailand without having to do jail time for corruption charges, her administration simultaneously pledged not to amend Thailand’s lese-majeste laws and to tighten censorship of websites containing allegedly-offensive content.
Now it seems even the Bard of Avon is caught up in Thailand’s censorship dragnet. Southeast Asia-based documentary filmmaker Bradley Cox saw his Who Killed Chea Vichea? – about a Cambodian trade unionist who was murdered in 2004 – banned in Cambodia. Discussing Shakespeare Must Die, Mr Cox told the Monitor that “it makes one think that the censors must not think that highly of the Thai people, if they feel that they cannot handle the imagery and messages contained in this movie”
For Ing K., the censors’ reaction to the movie says a lot about Thailand, where the government and the opposition are at odds over a reconciliation proposal that, to some, could mean impunity for those involved in recent political violence. “We don’t want to look at ourselves”, she lamented, “we want to forget about painful events in our history”.Show