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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rules allowing censorship of depictions of homosexuality criticised

A poster from filmmaker Sok Visal’s new feature, Poppy Goes To Hollywood, that flips the script on traditional portrayals of LGBT characters in Cambodian cinema. Photo supplied
A poster from filmmaker Sok Visal’s new feature, Poppy Goes To Hollywood, that flips the script on traditional portrayals of LGBT characters in Cambodian cinema. Photo supplied

Rules allowing censorship of depictions of homosexuality criticised

When the Ministry of Culture banned actor Denny Kwan on April 25 from appearing in movies for a year for wearing revealing clothing, the decision drew fire for what many felt were its sexist overtones. It also called attention to the ministry’s code of ethics, a February 23 document that dictates what behaviour is acceptable for artists.

But within another seldom-mentioned set of ministry guidelines, created in 2011, are restrictions that give the ministry wide latitude to censor depictions of homosexuality, which LGBT advocates have called discriminatory.

The “Guidelines on Classification”, which are not widely available, but were recently obtained by The Post, guide the ministry in determining film ratings, and even whether or not a movie should be banned.

“Movies which display the lives of homosexual persons are clearly not in line with social value. Those movies should not promote or encourage homosexuality as appropriate,” the guidelines read.

They also clarify that “generally films whose themes are related to adults (ex: drug-use, prostitution or homosexuality) shall be classified under R18”, meaning only for adult viewers. Meanwhile, homosexual – but not heterosexual – intercourse in films is completely banned.

When notified by The Post of the restrictions, prominent LGBTQ activist Srun Srorn said the guidelines “support hate, discrimination and bullying”.

Srorn said that while – or because – a majority of Cambodian society is reluctant to accept homosexual relationships, movies are an “educational tool for people” to show the lives of homosexuals.

According to these guidelines, “encouragement and promotion for same sex partnership” are entirely banned – a fact that Srorn found outrageous.

“It’s not about promotion. It’s about education . . . You cannot [change] anyone’s sexuality,” he said.

Sin Chan Saya, the former director of the Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department who was involved in drafting the guidelines, said his department “cannot remove that sentence”.

“We allow them to show love, but it’s not love like the opposite sex,” he said. “How many people support [showing homosexual affection]? Not many, so we . . . need to follow the majority.” He stressed that “hugging and kissing” could be allowed, but homosexual intercourse was prohibited, as “inappropriate touching” contradicts Cambodian values.

Nuon Sidara, project coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said in an email yesterday that “[if] true, it is shocking to learn that these regressive and homophobic provisions are contained in the guidelines”. The guidelines, he said, “appear at odds with multiple previous statements of the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister and even the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk,” and were a “major and unjustifiable restriction of LGBTIQ rights in Cambodia”.

“We totally reject any assertion that homophobia is inherent to ‘Cambodian values’, but even if it was, international human rights law is crystal clear that human rights law trumps cultural considerations when it comes to protecting the rights of minorities,” he wrote.

Chhay Bora, a filmmaker and president of Motion Picture Association of Cambodia, echoed this assessment, saying that he would support guidelines that match international standards but that the clauses on homosexuality should be removed.

“You don’t harm anyone [by including homosexuality in movies],” he said. “I understand love . . . We cannot change the hearts of humans.”

Bora was in favour of the decision to punish Denny Kwan in April, however, and was even on the committee that levied the ban. Wearing revealing clothes as a public figure, he argued, was unacceptable.

“You harm my feelings. Sometimes I sit next to my children or grandchildren, and when I scroll through Facebook I don’t feel comfortable seeing these photos,” he said. Srorn, however, disagreed.

“We are not going to hurt anyone by dressing [a certain way],” he said. “Who makes the culture? It’s not the ministry.”

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