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Malaysian Censors Move to Ban 'List' : Movies: Government body in Muslim nation calls Spielberg's Holocaust film 'propaganda.' Jewish groups are outraged.

March 24, 1994|CHARLES P. WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SINGAPORE — Steven Spielberg's movie "Schindler's List" may have won seven Academy Awards, but the film has been banned from being shown in the Muslim nation of Malaysia, provoking outrage among Jewish groups around the world.

United International Pictures, the film's distributor overseas, Wednesday released a letter from the Malaysian board of film censors that said the film reflects "the privilege and the virtues of a certain race only."

The letter, which was written in the Malay language and translated by the company, called the movie "propaganda with the purpose of asking for sympathy as well as to tarnish the other race."

Spielberg's film, which was named best picture at Monday's Academy Awards, is the World War II story of a Gentile businessman who saves more than 1,000 Jews from being sent to Nazi extermination camps.

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The government's film censor, Zainun Bin Saleh, said that Malaysian regulations required 25 deletions involving "scenes of sex, cruelty, horror and obscene dialogue."

Michael Williams-Jones, the president of United International, said in a telephone interview from London that he found the Malaysian decision shocking. "The reasons given were very, very troubling," he said.

Tom Pollock, chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group, said of the Malaysian ban that "we don't believe in censorship in any territory."

Pollock said that films "get banned all the time" but rarely on the kind of grounds cited by the Malaysians.

Malaysia, a nation of 18 million people, is about 60% Muslim. The government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed has been an especially outspoken critic of Israel and Zionism.

The ban provoked an immediate outcry from Jewish groups stretching from Los Angeles to Australia. The American Jewish Committee described the decision as a "shock and an outrage."

"We are saddened but not surprised by this deplorable decision, which is in keeping with the longstanding anti-Semitism expressed by the prime minister of the country," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Cooper said that Mahathir served as an example of "anti-Semitism without Jews" because only a handful of Jews live in Malaysia. "For years now, the Jewish people and Judaism have been vilified by his bigotry," Cooper said.

Asked Wednesday about whether he approved the banning of the film, Mahathir said he wasn't familiar with the specific details of the case. But he added, "It is our right to ban any film in this country."

Asked to comment on allegations that he is an anti-Semite, Mahathir replied, "I am not anti-Semitic. I am anti-Zionist expansionism and conquest of Arab territories by the Zionists," he said. Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said later Wednesday the ban would be reviewed. "It was the view of the censorship board and I think some of us will have to take it up. I don't think that is the final decision," he told reporters.

Most of the nations of Southeast Asia, even including such free-wheeling countries as Thailand, impose film censorship in some form. Explicit sex and extreme violence are either chopped out, or films are banned outright.

In fact, the Philippines initially refused to allow "Schindler's List" to be shown without deletions of bare breasts and a scene showing a couple making love. Spielberg refused to permit deletions in the film, and it was going to be withdrawn until President Fidel Ramos overruled the censorship board and ordered it released. It is showing to capacity audiences.

Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, has yet to decide whether to allow the film to be shown.

Singapore, which also imposes strict censorship, is showing the film uncut, though it has an adults-only rating because of the sex scenes. Singaporeans appealed in the press Wednesday for the age to be lowered.

A Malaysian newspaper, Utusan Malaysia, published a column under a pseudonym in which the author urged the government to reverse its decision and permit the film to be shown.

The columnist argued that what happened to the Jews under the Nazis is "currently happening to Muslims in Bosnia," and therefore the Malaysian people should have a chance to see what "ethnic cleansing" is all about.

United International said the company has appealed the ban and a hearing will be held on April 12. Company officials said that a number of films had been banned in Malaysia in the past for sexual content or graphic violence, and that the company had withdrawn others rather than submit them to extensive editing.

The company added that "Schindler's List" is currently drawing capacity audiences in Turkey, another Muslim country, but said it has not submitted the movie to Persian Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

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