How a film can scare a government
The cinema can be seen as a pleasurable pastime for many, however, in countries where political agendas are strict and overbearing, film can be a source of much controversy and even fright for national governments.
A movie can often serve as a window into the collective pulse of a nation. When it is produced, the topics discussed, and the films reception all can serve as indicators into the daily life of a country. A screenplay offers stories and characters to which people can relate, and they are portrayed in such a way that mirrors the way many lead their lives. For this reason, the power of cinema is strong, so strong that many authoritarian governments fear its power to inspire a nation.
Filmmakers portraying society
A recent feature by Al Jazeera highlights the work of three African filmmakers who have been censored by their country's governments because of the content of their work. Jamil Quebeka's film, Of Good Report, follows the story of a teacher who becomes enamored with one of his students to the point with which he begins a relationship with her. Because of the nature of the film, and its alleged portrayal of "child pornography," it was banned on the opening night of the Durban Film Festival, though this ban has since been overturned.
In explaining the film, Quebeka discussed how he saw his film in the context of African society.
"We reflect the societies we live in," he told Al Jazeera. "I'm a pretty creative guy but I cannot take full credit for the world I have created in my film. The world that is there is the world that my government is custodian of."
In a way, Quebeka addresses his government directly, saying that he is simply portraying the society that his government has facilitated. These words can be challenging and scary to an oppressive government. If a potential movie goer can see the effects of their government's actions, entire nation's populations can begin to grow skeptical of their government and see through their rhetoric.
Another filmmaker featured in the Al Jazeera story is Jean-Pierre Bekolo, whose film Le President was banned because it portrayed the end current president Paul Biya's reign in Cameroon, a topic that Bekolo feels is almost criminal in the country. He uses his film to portray his view point on what the end of his reign could mean for the country.
Many similar situations in Africa have led to country wide civil wars, meaning that Bekolo's film is doing important work in opening a discussion about the political organization of Cameroon. However, because of the questions it brings up surrounding government authority in the country, it raises fears among officials who do not wish for this kind of discussion to occur.
Thiha Tin Than, a filmmaker from Myanmar, has run into similar troubles in the production of his own films. In his most recent film, a fully clothed but romantic bed scene needed to be removed from the film in order to be approved for viewing in the cinema, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The scene, while deemed relatively tame when compared to the standards of other countries, was ill-received by some audiences. This most recent censoring seems to be the most mild, as the movie was allowed to air was the scene was removed, but his film examining the life of a prostitute in the country needed to be completely reworked, and he was banned from producing films for six months.
The fact that so many governments have been so involved in the censoring of films, shows just how scared they are of the cinema's power. Because such wide audiences can gain access to films, their message can be disseminated on a very large scale. Depending on how influential the movie is, this can have devastating effects on an authoritative government. In this way, film is both a valuable source of free expression and political dissent, and for the same reason, a major cause of concern for those who wish not to relinquish their power.