Due to the fact that I was unable to make my trip to Mexico, the festival staff members asked whether I would like them to help me pass a message to the audience after the screening of my film. So I wrote them the following:
Malaysia is half a world away from Mexico. I am very honoured to be able to share with you all a reflection of my own country. Perhaps because of the tropical sun, we are similar in many ways, peace-loving, laidback, cheerful, a love for partying and good food. But I really would like to share with you a recent incident that rocked our nation.
On the 9th of July, 2011. Thousands of Malaysians went on a peaceful rally in the city to hope for some changes in the current political system, especially the electoral system that had favoured our ruling government party for the past 50+ years.
Instead of allowing the citizens to voice their thoughts, there was a massive police crackdown. Tear gases and water cannons were fired at the demonstrators, regardless of age and gender (yes, there were children and old people at the rally). The police arrested almost 1400 demonstrators. One demonstrator died in a fall when he tried to run from the water cannons and tear gases. Another one was Liew Seng Tat, an award-winning filmmaker friend of mine, who, after gotten arrested and being handcuffed, was beaten up a few times, and had a chemical-covered towel pressed against his face.
He's fine now, thankfully. But we're shocked to see how people were treated as criminals by the police for our desire to express our own voices, for exercising our rights as citizens to create a discussion with what we think is wrong about our own country, Malaysia. The police were supposed to protect us, yet we are forced to fear them now.
I'm a little sad to think that the democracy that exists in our country is a fictitious one. The mainstream media, be it the newspapers, or the TV news, are owned by our government. They constantly face the risk of having their publishing licenses revoked if they cease to churn out pro-government propaganda.
The day after the rally, most of the mainstream media painted demonstrators as 'troublemakers' trying to disrupt the peace of our country.
With such an environment, the issues of brain-drain and migration had became quite prevalent among Malaysians. Many young Malaysians of my generation are encouraged by parents or others to move out of the country (like the girl in the film did), others choose to live mediocre lives within the system just to avoid trouble (like the guy in the film did). 'INHALATION' was meant to depict this.
Under such circumstances, I worry my film might would get me into trouble if I were to play it to the Malaysian public since I'm being negative towards certain parts of the system.
But I'm glad it's shown in Mexico. Thanks."
(Updated: Despite my above complaints about the mainstream media, I was more than a little surprised to see this column, 'The Polarised World of Politics' by Marina Mahathir, which had some pointed words towards our leaders, on The Star Online.)