Cinema, sexuality and censorship in post-soeharto Indonesia

Intan Paramaditha*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


At the end of 2007, the omnibus film Chants of Lotus (Perempuan Punya Cerita, 2007), directed by four women fi lmmakers and produced by independent production house Kalyana Shira Film, was severely cut by the Indonesian Censorship Board for showing sex scenes regarded as obscene by Indonesian standards and for portraying a veiled woman involved in a casual conversation about sex. The filmmakers- Nia Dinata, Upi Avianto, Lasja Fauziah, and Fatimah Tobing Rony- believe that the cutting has disrupted the narrative coherence of the movie and that this act of censorship prevents the audience from fully grasping the problems pertaining to sexuality in Indonesia such as abortion, sex traffi cking, teenage sexuality, and AIDS. The censoring of Chants of Lotus demonstrates that even after the New Order authoritarian regime under President Soeharto ended in 1998, fi lm policy still operates based on the old, repressive paradigm. The persistence of censorship caused a large number of young filmmakers to join the Indonesian Film Society (Masyarakat Film Indonesia/MFI) in 2006 and urged the government to abolish censorship that they no longer regarded as relevant to the contemporary situation. Th e demands were brought to the Constitutional Court and rejected in April 2008.1 Th e anxiety about sexual representation in cinema exemplifi ed by Chants of Lotus reveals how the discourse of sexuality has become an inseparable element of the public debates in Indonesia. Since Soeharto stepped down in 1998, various national phenomena ranging from the launching of Playboy Indonesia to the controversial erotic dances of the dangdut singer Inulhave stirred up a moral panic among some Islamist groups, that recently have begun to gain more power in politics, and got the state to push the Pornography Bill (Rancangan Undang-Undang Pornografi ) that regulates sexuality in public. While some Islamist groups supported the Bill, cultural activists, artists, writers, and fi lmmakers protested against it for its underlying patriarchal and anti-pluralist logic.2 Aft er almost a decade of debates, revisions, and demonstrations, the Bill became law in October 2008 as the Pornography Law. Within this sphere of tension around sexuality, my essay explores the connection between the ways in which the new generation of Indonesian filmmakers channeled their aspiration through Masyarakat Film Indonesia/MFI, an organization established by young fi lmmakers, and the larger discourse of post-Soeharto sexual politics. I attempt to answer the following questions: How do the new filmmakers see sexuality, and how does this perspective diff erfrom that of the state? What is the significance of depicting sexuality in contemporary Indonesian cinema? My research focuses on the debates around censorship between MFI and the Censorship Board in the Constitutional Court as well as some films, particularly Chants of Lotus and Women: In the Cut (Perempuan: Kisahdi Balik Guntingan, 2008), a documentary on how Chants of Lotus was affl icted by censorship. Elucidating the historical context of censorship and sexuality in Indonesia, the logic behind post-Soeharto film censorship, and the way that MFI criticizes the Censorship Board, I will show that the new filmmakers conceptualize sexuality diff erently from the state and deploy sexuality to both question and reconstruct national identity. I will also argue that there are limitations and ambivalences in the new fi lmmakers' desire to explore and problematize sexuality as a national issue.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSoutheast Asian Independent Cinema
EditorsTilman Baumgärtel
Place of PublicationHong Kong
PublisherHong Kong University Press, HKU
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9789888083602, 9888083600
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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