Members of the LGBTQ community the world over marveled when Moonlight — Barry Jenkins’ film about a poor, black and gay man in South Florida — took home the Academy Award on Feb. 26 for Best Picture. (And not just because of the unprecedented mixup that accompanied the night’s final award, which you can watch here.) Unfortunately, it’s not likely that every queer person will be able to see the critically acclaimed film, more specifically residents of Singapore, where the fate of the Best Picture winner is currently “uncertain.”
(Editor’s note: The island republic of Singapore decriminalized sex between two consenting females — lesbians — back in 2007, though it is still illegal for two men to have sex together, punishable by a maximum of two years in jail.)
To be clear, Singapore does not have a great track record when it comes to LGBT content in films, as government censors have been known to censor those films in whole or in part. Several films have been banned outright from screening in Singapore, and the government’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) takes a hardline stance even on what can appear in a movie’s poster. In 2005, for instance, the film Be With Me — in which one of its three vignettes dealt with two teenage girls who become lovers — a spokesperson of the IMDA reportedly said, “One of the guidelines states that posters must not depict or promote homosexual or lesbian intimacy. … As such, the distributor was advised to use alternative visuals.”
Films with LGBT content, however, have made their way to Singaporean screens. Back in 2006, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain made it past Singapore’s censors, screening to audiences uncut, despite a gay sex scene.
Singapore also has an annual queer film festival. The most recent installment took place in August of last year and screened films including Strike a Pose, Papa Rainbow and That’s My Boy.
That being said, the future of Moonlight — specifically whether it will be screened in Singapore — is indeed “uncertain,” according to PopSpoken, a Singaporean digital lifestyle publication.
But that’s not necessarily due to its LGBT content.
It was thought that Singapore’s best chance in having Moonlight screened on its shores would be courtesy of The Projector, a local indie cinema outfit that has been bringing Oscar-worthy films to the island. But it’s The Projector now saying that might not happen. “While we would love to bring it home for you guys, the status is uncertain at the moment,” the organization’s March 1 statement reads.
That’s apparently due more to the high costs of bringing the film to Singapore, as the film’s distributor may want to wait for a distribution deal or film festival that could garner its project the most exposure, putting it out of the price range of a group like The Projector.
Eternality Tan, managing director of film education initiative The Filmic Eye and an adjunct film lecturer at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information in Nanyang Technological University, believes Moonlight would actually have a good shot at being passed “clean” (meaning uncut) with an R-21 rating. “It’s one thing to have gay themes or characters in a film, and another thing altogether to have sexually explicit scenes between gay characters,” he says. But Tan places Moonlight in a category more akin to Andrew Haigh’s well-received gay film Weekend as opposed to the rather explicit Blue Is the Warmest Color, which was censored in Singapore.
Tan also believes Moonlight’s issues of race “may temper the gay elements. … On paper, Moonlight doesn’t immediately strike me as a red card kind of film for (the) IMDA.”
It seems that some have jumped the gun, assuming that Moonlight will not be shown in Singapore due to its positive portrayal of LGBT people on film, but nothing has happened yet with the IMDA to suggest that’s the case.
Here’s hoping that the Best Picture winner of 2017 makes its way to Singapore in the near future, uncut and able to provide true insight into the LGBT experience to all those who see it.