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17 Apr 2009

Auraeus Solito on his Boy

Fridae speaks with Filipino director Auraeus Solito whose latest film Boy, which is meant to have its world premiere in Singapore this weekend, has been disallowed for "normalising homosexuality."

Auraeus Solito's Boy is one of two films scheduled to be screened at the 22nd Singapore International Film Festival banned by the censors for "normalising" homosexuality and a "prolonged and explicit" homosexual scene which was filmed in a "romanticised manner." The only other film that was been disallowed is Shahida (Brides of Allah), a documentary by Israeli Natalie Assouline, for its pro-terrorism stance. Four additional films have been withdrawn; two of which, Females Games (by Kan Lume, Singapore) and Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly (by Edwin, Indonesia) were passed with edits for prolonged and explicit lesbian sex and for prolonged homosexual sex respectively. The festival has a no-cut screening policy.

Top of page: Filmmaker Auraeus Solito. Above: Screenshots of Boy starring Aeious Asin (second image from the top, right) in the lead role and Aries Pena, a real life macho dancer who plays himself. Images courtesy Auraeus Solito.
Boy will now have its world premiere at the Torino Gay and Lesbian Film Festival which runs April 23-30 in Italy followed by an Asian premiere in Jeonju International Film Festival in Korea and Canadian Premiere in ImagineNative (Indigenous Film Festival) in Toronto. Boy will screen in the Philippines in June.

Fridae catches up with Solito, who is probably best known for his 2006 Teddy Award-winning The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, to talk more about the ban and his semi-autobiographical coming of age film. (The Teddy Award is the official LGBT award at the Berlin International Film Festival.)

æ: Can you tell us more about I>Boy and the scene the censors object to?

Auraeus: Boy is my ode to the erotic Filipino genre, especially the 1998 Macho Dancer movie by Lino Brocka. Macho dancers are like male strippers with a very enticing and sensual way of dancing which I find aesthetically beautiful. Each generation in the Philippines has a "macho dancer" film. This is my deconstruction of that genre.

In the film, an unnamed teenager accepts himself, his homosexuality, when he falls in love with a Macho Dancer. He sells his comic books so that he can afford to buy him for one night. Of course, the climax of the film is when the Boy finally consummates his love with the Macho dancer.

It is this lovemaking scene (according to the festival organisers of SIFF) that the censors have disallowed. It is a very gentle and sensual scene. In fact, I have made series of screening tests in Manila and Amsterdam - and they found the scene sensual and beautiful. That is why I was totally surprised that the censors found this scene not fit for public viewing.

æ: The Straits Times (Singapore) reported that the Singapore censors "felt that the film normalised homosexuality and that the homosexual scene was prolonged and explicit and filmed in a romanticised manner." The panel chairman, Vijay Chandran, further observed that "the homosexual love-making scene has exceeded the guidelines and the board, by allowing it, will shift the markers set by the community." What are your thoughts?

Auraeus: Initially, I was so happy that the SIFF selected the film for competition. It however became a great disappointment that the censors in Singapore disallowed the film from screening in the festival.

The phrase "normalises homosexuality" and "romantises" very clearly articulates their homophobic view. Very weird to read that on one hand they felt Shahida (Brides of Allah) might promote hate and misunderstanding of the religion and on the other hand with the censorship of Boy and their comments, they are exacting just that - a phobic oppression of a sexual orientation that has to do with love! The hypocrisy is truly shocking for a very modern cosmopolitan society. To the censors: "Gay people also make love."

æ: Boy has been selected for [Silver Screen Awards] Asian Feature Film Competition. With the film being withdrawn, is it still in competition?

Auraeus: Nope. I have withdrawn from the competition. The Festival organisers have proposed that I show my film to the jury and remain in-competition, which has been done before. I didn't agree because I make my films for an audience not a jury.

æ: Your second feature film, Tuli (Circumcision), which was in competition at the CineManila Film Festival, got an X-rating from the MTRCB, banning its exhibition. The film was cut and shown without your permission; and it won the awards for Best Film and Best Director. As a filmmaker, is it better to show with cuts or not at all?

Auraeus: As a filmmaker, I prefer to show my film at its purest form. As an artist I want the freedom to express myself.

æ: What inspired Boy and is there a social message?

Auraeus: I have always wanted to direct an erotic film. I grew up in Manila, watching beautifully made "bold" films. These films somehow help me define my sexuality making me accept myself as a gay person.

But I wanted to make an erotica that is more sensitive and personal. The film is basically a rich Boy meets poor Boy film. It was almost like a documentary making this film, casting real macho dancers, female impersonators and a real poet (the lead Boy played by Aeious Asin is a Creative Writing major at the University of the Philippines). Only the parents - the Mother of the Boy and the Father of the macho dancer were played by professional actors.

The script was organic, being written day by day as we got closer with the macho dancers. I wanted to know who they really were. And why is it that since the People Power revolution in 1986, things have not really changed. People are still poor and getting poorer, the rich are still getting richer And somehow when the rich Boy meets the poor boy, he finds his humanity in the poorest of the poor.

In Boy, I cast a real life macho dancer, Aries Pena, who plays himself. He tells me in one crucial scene that his fellow macho dancers told him while practicing his lines (which was based on how they really talked): "Finally we are being portrayed who we really are. And you (Aries Pena) are carrying our banner as people, dancing to survive!"

æ: Your first feature film The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, which won 15 international awards, is also a coming of age story. What is it about coming of age stories that inspires or attracts you?

Auraeus: I grow with my films. My first four features were my "growing-up" stage. For me it is the most beautiful yet painful time. So perhaps my next four, would be the more "grown up" filmmaker with characters who have come of age.

æ: When was the first time you fell in love or realised you are gay?

Auraeus: Like Maximo, I fell in love with my officer while I was having military training in high school at the age of 15. He always gave me high merits when I had the sharpest salute; and I was one of the boys who could keep up with him when we jogged around the campus.

Like the unnamed boy in Boy, at seventeen, when I went to my first gay bar and saw a macho dancer dancing which was a real turn-on. And when I felt this (it's genetic!:) I finally accepted that I'm gay.

So for me the erotic genre is very important for people to define their sexuality. This film is almost personal, for it captures that night when I finally accepted myself for who I am.

æ: How did you get into filmmaking?

Auraeus: Through a gay poetry reading when I read my poem "Bouyancy." I was given a scholarship by the head of the film school for a summer animation workshop. I also just came from my mother's hometown in Southern Palawan and met my indigenous relatives, after graduation from Theatre Arts in the University of the Philippines. When I witnessed a very sacred ritual from my tribe, the Palawan, I realised that theater itself was not enough to capture our people's culture, so I realised I needed a new medium. And serendipitously, when I went back to Manila, I was offered this filmmaking workshop.

æ: What projects are you working on now?

Auraeus: A dream film about my indigenous roots in Palawan, a documentary of Filipino migrants in Amsterdam and a theatre comeback (I was a theatre director before I went to film. The last play I directed was 10 years ago.)

æ: What is your vision for the gay community?

Auraeus: An un-materialistic, free, open and truly liberated community not based on "western" standards but each culture's distinctness that is full of humanity and compassion.

æ: Tell us about a cause that you support?

Auraeus: Indigenous People Rights. I have Palawanon indigenous blood.

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-04-17 08:12  
Lets put it this way.
If the Sg censor accepts your film, it means you've not done the film to what it should have been.

Congratulations on your effort.
2. 2009-04-17 08:47  
Singapore IS NOT a "modern, cosmopolitian society"..it is simply a "modern, cosmopolitian facade" imitating a modern society. Within the deceiving facade called Singapore live thousands of beautiful, smart, talented, and NORMAL queers who will someday play key roles to re-shape and re-define the oppressive society that is currently behind the artifical facade in Singapore. Homosexuality IS normal, and love-making between men is often beautiful, romantic, tender and (very) prolonged. Mr. Solito got it right. Singapore government and censors have it wrong.
3. 2009-04-17 09:09  
i SO wanted to watch this film, and was asking around why i cannot buy the tickets on sistics.

not surprised that another film has been withdrawn like this. every year they do it. oh well. so much so for promoting the arts, wanting to be a hub for the arts!
4. 2009-04-17 09:23  
is this a porn movie?
5. 2009-04-17 09:30  
banned bacause it "normalises homosexuality"? did they mean homosexuality is abnormal?! we aren't in the middle ages, are we? i think this is horrribly unfair and discriminatory.

i'll never accept that i am and what i am is abnormal. i might agree with them if they said that such scenes were "offending", i'd understand where they are coming from coz i'm an asian too with a culture that is selective in accepting things.

hey, gurls. the SIFF finds us abnormal. do we need to celebrate? argh!
6. 2009-04-17 12:34  
jedtiu, read carefully.

It's not the SIFF, it's the censors!
7. 2009-04-17 14:13  
The biggest surprise here is that the film was even submitted to premiere in Singapore. Is it any surprise to anyone is it that it was censored ?
Forget Singapore for ANYTHING like this. ( At least for another 100 years)
8. 2009-04-17 16:44  
Yes, it's not SIFF, it's the censors who think they have the moral authority to judge what can seen by the public. They could have given it a R21 rating but no, those narrow-minded bigots think otherwise.
Having said that, I must admit I'm not impressed with the director's last film "Maximo Oliveros" - it had a story line that went nowhere and didn't touch on anything we don't already know. It didn't bring up any new insight to any issues either - it was a farce. But that's just my opinion - others may like it.
Comment #9 was deleted by its author
10. 2009-04-17 19:14  
oh, i get it, so we can only 'normalise' violence and superstition with prolonged scenes of violence, sadism, and supernatural happenings because thats exactly what our society needs
11. 2009-04-17 19:35  
This censorship of romance brought to mind the response of the old projectionist in Cinema Paradiso; when the local priest cut out all the romantic embraces from all the Hollywood films that were shown in the little Italian town, the projectionist saved all the bits that were cut over the years, and spliced them together into one reel, which he left to his protege, who then viewed after the old man died, to great sentimental effect.

Maybe a response here might be to have an exhibition or film festival somewhere outside Singapore, devoted to all the films censored/banned over the years for the most ridiculous reasons, from the Singapore International Film Festival, explaining the reasons given for the ban. It could perhaps be called "Normalising Bigotry".
12. 2009-04-18 10:46  
Off into the dark ages we go.....
excellent idea Steveuk......
You could do it in Aus as part of the annual sydney arts fest or the gay mardi gra
13. 2009-04-18 13:01  
Taken from the Economist April 4th-10th 2009.
Page 12,Democracy in South-East Asia/The Indonesian surprise.
...(Indonesia)...it has a fair claim to be South-East Asia only fully functioning democracy.Unfettered by Thailand's draconian lese-majeste laws,or the fierce interpretations of what constitutes defamation in Singapore and Malaysia, the press is vibrant and free....(in Indonesia)
Further more, as the end of the article points out so aptly, both in Malaysia and in Singapore the talking of 'Asian values' is only a pretext for authoritarianism.
It is well over time for Singapore to have its saying in what it can say, read, view without government's pathetic and dangerous intervention in the daily life of its people, let alone those of our gay brothers and sisters.
JP.Soleau aka 33longchamp
14. 2009-04-19 18:10  
I love your vision for the gay community....makatao...makabayan...maka-UP :-)
15. 2009-04-23 17:30  
I too, love Auraeus' vision for the Asian gay community. We should grow into our own and I like to think we are. Mabuhay!

On a separate and important note, it is actually censorship policy that only negative images of homosexuality be allowed to be shown in sg. That is why in the public media, gay people are allowed to be portrayed as insane, diabolical, manipulative stalkers who abuse their partners.

Any positive message on homosexuality is actually not allowed, expressly. That is why kisses between same sex couples are not allowed. That is why sex that is sweet and normal and romantic between same sex couples are not allowed. That is why, even the simplest gay affirmative messages are not allowed. No one is even allowed to say, 'I am gay and I am happy' on public free-to-air telly, radio and print media. This is policy. You are not even allowed to take an ad out to do that, even if you pay for it as a private citizen.

This is deliberate and clear discrimination. As a community, we need to be clear about where we stand as citizens who are gay. Get educated. This is for real here in sg.

The consequence of this particular policy is that no struggling young person will ever receive honest and non-biased counselling when they are exploring their sexuality. The consequence of this is that all gay people grow up and step out of the closet always guilty about their sexuality and always wondering if there is something wrong with us. We are not allowed positive models and examples of healthy functioning and happy same sex couples. That is why we get into dysfunctional relationships. Unlike straight people, we have no public images of being able to have it all, achieve success, have our own families, be accepted.

Allowing only negative images of homomsexuality in public media is worse than not allowing it at all.

Understand that. Understand our normality, our happiness and health is not acknowledged and that is more damaging to our psyche than not seeing any images.
Comment #16 was deleted by its author
Comment #17 was deleted by its author
Comment #18 was deleted by its author
19. 2009-04-24 18:22  
Re Jules_Tinman (post #14):
You've hit the nail right on the head.
It's time for gay Asians to make a stand :-)

I remember growing up here, no one ever had a positive impression on PLUS...that, & the so-called 'gay scene' here which I personally find a tad phony & plastic, like its American counterpart (sorry Americans), made me one very stressful, negative individual. Thankfully I began to rediscover & unlearn all that poisonous stereotypes, all thanks to to the quality European films that potray same-sex relationships in a matter-of-fact, down-to-earth way, very much like straight relationships with all the hard work, effort & tears- as well as faults :-)
That marked my turning point...I became hungry for more, & later got an even bigger discovery (gasp):


Thank you, Auraerus, for adding this to the quality Asian glbt film's catalogue ;-) Oh, btw, I will never forget- or forgive- the psychological damage MDA had done to my growing years, so...i've boycotted (unofficially of course, it's a personal choice, never impose it on others) all Mediacorp & MDA films.
And TV dramas too. Thank God it's easy, as 99% of their film & TV dramas...suck anyway :p
20. 2009-08-19 05:27  
Gawd, how this frustrates me. It's enough that I had to grow up in a mililtary family and an evangelical upbringing (I blame the latter on myself), so just as I get out of the Army and have accepted my full sexuality...with a desire to go back to Asia (where I went to grade school and high school), there seems to be no place to go (forget europe, s. american or africa for now.)

So, where my Asian brothers, does a masculine white (old-er) American go to find others of like mind with intellect, honesty, and a desire for an enduring friendship (sex w/ friends is a bonus.) Or am I simply writing myself into my own hopeless romance novel...lol.
21. 2010-05-03 12:28  
now, could someone please tell me where can i find or download this movie?

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