26 December 2019

Disney Removes Same-Sex Kiss From Star Wars’ Film in Singapore” (New York Times)

A brief kiss between two female characters was removed from screenings of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in Singapore, a country with restrictive laws against gay people.

Though lasting just a few seconds and hardly a major plot point, the kiss between two minor characters was notable as the first overt appearance of gay characters in a Star Wars” film. Disney cut the kiss to preserve the film’s PG-13 rating in Singapore, according to reports.

The applicant has omitted a brief scene which under the film classification guidelines would require a higher rating,” a representative of Singapore’s media regulator, Infocomm Media Development Authority, told The Guardian.

This isn’t an all-out ban on the scene, but a decision taken to moderate what material is shown to younger members of the audience. Taking a step back from the New York Times’ anti-anti-gay bashing, a few factors are at play here that perhaps justify this form of regulation.

First, as hard as it may be for some people to imagine, overt displays of homosexual attraction (or even any sort of sexual expression, even heterosexual ones) are not all that common in some places. This means that exposure of the public to such scenes is not going to be as harmless or meaningless as some might think, and prudence is called for in the introduction of such media into a country.

Second, the regulation is proportionate because it is pegged to the age of the viewer. Underlying this decision is the idea that while mature audiences can be exposed to a wider variety of ideas, it would be irresponsible to simply expose children to all sorts of narratives and scenes that run contrary to dominant, accepted, and cherished values. An all-out ban is unnecessary and would clearly be disproportionate, whereas age-classification offers a means of tailoring the reach of a movie.

Third, and related to the two points above, given the flux in opinion relating to such same-sex relationships and the legitimate disagreements that exist in the public sphere, it is wise to take a precautionary approach to these issues. There is absolutely no reason to rush into normalising any deviation from accepted norms. Even more so when it comes without nuance, without discourse, simply in the form of a kiss in a movie.

Finally, it was Disney’s choice to cut the scene. They could have decided to stand on their principles and choose not to cut the scene. This would have then attracted a higher age-classification, but so what? Unless their purpose was to reach under-16s (assuming that it would have attracted an NC-16 classification) with that message, this shouldn’t bother them. Inevitably, it was the logic of profit maximisation that guided their conduct (and it was likely the same logic that drove Disney to include such a scene in the first place1). Disney isn’t being particularly brave either by cutting the scene in Singapore or including the scene in the US.

Perhaps, fundamentally, apart from the disagreement on sexual ethics, the idea of the government seeking the good of its people and ensuring social stability (as far as it can), exercising wisdom and prudence in its policies rather than following the flow of external opinion, and implementing moderate, gradated, and proportional regulation, is so foreign that the Singapore government’s decision cannot be explained or understood other than an affront to civilised opinion”.

  1. Although I acknowledge that individuals involved might have genuinely sought such representation as a matter of principle.

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