Waymon Hudson

Censorship Deprives Millions of Hearing Oscar Night Equality Messages

Filed By Waymon Hudson | February 25, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media, Politics
Tags: censorship, Dustin Lance Black, India, Malaysia, Oscar, Oscar acceptance speech, Sean Penn, Singapore

By now we've all heard the great pro-equality speeches by Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black from the Oscar telecast. Sean Penn, not surprisingly, took on anti-gay political sentiment (and Westboro Baptist Church), while Black delivered a tear-jerking message to young queer youth that they are beautiful and loved. 090222_lanceblog.jpgI know that as a young gay boy living in rural Florida who used to stay awake to watch the Oscars, Black's message would have had a profound impact on me.

But it seems that millions of people all over the world didn't get to hear that message of hope.

Yahoo is reporting that STAR, an Asian satellite TV service which reaches more than 300 million viewers in 53 countries, censored the Oscars to remove the words "gay" and "lesbian." Malaysia, Singapore, and India (where huge numbers where watching to see "Slumdog Millionaire" win) where among the countries where people complained about the censorship.

Jannie Poon, STAR's Hong Kong-based spokeswoman, said the provider has

a responsibility to take the sensitivities and guidelines of all our markets into consideration.

So a mass censoring of a show celebrating the arts due to "sensitivities" is the answer? Odd how there where no reports of censoring any of the touching, kissing, or other acts of affection between heterosexual people (which in many of the countries in question can go against cultural norms and acceptability), yet the mere words "gay" and "lesbian" where deemed too shocking and unacceptable.

Someone help them if they ever broadcast the Tony's...

Pang Khee Teik, a prominent Malaysian arts commentator who is gay, summed it up in a letter to many media outlets:

As a gay man, I am truly offended. Stop censoring the words that describe who I am. The move sent a message ... that gays and lesbians are still shameful things to be censored from the public's ears.

This was a message that needed to reach not only the LGBT people in other countries, but also their families, neighbors and governments.

(h/t to reader Christopher T)


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So, I was actually really confused reading the first paragraph of this post. And had to re-read it a couple of times. Because when you wrote "Sean Penn, not surprisingly, took on anti-gay political sentiment," I read "took on" to mean "adopted" rather than "challenged."

I was REALLY confused.

But now I understand.

Although I do not support the censorship of any kind, but I do not agree with the writer that this was a missed opportunity to give "hope" to gays in that part of the world especially when messengers of hope were white guys. In most Asian countries homosexuality is still regarded as "white" phenomenon. So, having white gay or straight people promoting the equality for gays especially in that part of world does not fly.

Even in the US gay people of color are missing from the images in the gay media as well as from most gay organizations which makes it hard for people of color communities to connect with gay issues and ofcourse put LGBT persons of color in a unique place where they get neglected in both gay as well as their own communities.

The strategy of putting "white" faces on gay issues has even failed in the US among people of color comminities. Perhaps it is time for white gay leadership to wake up especially after prop 8 (which is also a loss for gay people of color) but then racism has been hushed in the gay community for so long. Nearly all gay orgs actively promote leadership of gay white people who have been the primary beneficiaries of gay movement. The gatherings or meetings of gay community look like republican convention with few people of color tokens thrown in the mix. May be we should first work towards inclusion and "equality" of gay people of color with in the gay rights movement in the US before we try to give "hope" to people in other parts of the world.

While I agree with your comment on racism in the community, I think Dustin Black's comments to youth reached across racial lines and would have been inspiring to people of any color. Penn's focus on marriage might not be that big a missed opportunity internationally (although having a recognizable star talk about gay issues might have had some impact).

Them winning and being present wasn't the hope I was talking about- Black's words of encouragement to LGBT youth were. I think anytime queer kids can hear they aren't alone in the world is a good thing.

coloredqueer | February 25, 2009 1:30 PM

I agree with you about the need to reach out to LGBT youth of all colors.

But, I take issue with your position that western white gay folks can spread the message of liberation or equality to other parts of the world especially developing countires many of which have a history of colonization. Many LGBT groups operate in those parts of the world in the face of adversity. Those issues are much more complex and broader then a missed televised advocacy from the west on gay issues.

My point is that gay asians do not need "hope" from the western white white community (or straight) which has avoided any discussion of racism within their own community and have marginalized LGBT people of color. Human rights start at home.

Again, we all know that how gay whites have benefitted from the good old boy type networks which operate in Castro or Chelsea or Fire Island and interestingly many of these networks fund gay white orgs. The face of the US is changing and it would benefit all of us (queers of all colors) to reflect those changing realities.

I completely agree that the face of the US is changing (and has been for a long time) and we should reflect it in the queer community.

I do think, however, that there is something to be said (especially in a more globally connected world, especially when it comes to movies and pop culture) for young gay people, in whatever country, hearing that they are not alone.

Is it going to solve all problems? Heck no. But could it make someone feel a little better or impact someone? Maybe.

I just think that censoring this type of stuff sends the opposite message- that anything gay is shameful- whatever the country that is doing it.

coloredqueer | February 25, 2009 2:34 PM

With all due respect, unfortunately, what you think is a message of "hope" or "equality" is through the lens of white westerners and most likey will be considered as having a ring of imperalistic attitude and may actually hurt the cause of gay people in other countries rather then help it.

Many people in Asia have a different view of sexuality. Many don't even identify as "gay" or "lesbian" or in other words the notion of sexuality from the west can not be imported in same terms to other cultures. For example, gay marriage is not a priority even within the LGBT people of color communities in the west let alone for gay people in Asia who are just busy struggling to survive. In the past, attempts of feminists from the west to impose the concept of western feminism miserably failed in Asian countries. Even in this globally connected world those counrties have preserved their own cultures.

But, my point again is how can you preach the message of equality to other countries/cultures when you can not even discuss or implement human rights (blatant and widespread racism within the LGBT movement) at home and in your own communities?

In the west, LGBT people of color are totally invisible and you even have whites dominating the organizations which are supposed to work on people of color issues or in other words whites imposing their own understanding of issues on other communities. That approach has failed in reaching out to black, latin and asian groups in the US and we all paid a price with prop 8 and perhaps other defeats to come in the future.

In international context you can't appoint white westerners as messengers or leaders to preach gay rights. People in other countries would reject such a position as it is a reminder of that dark history of colonization by whites and it would only hurt struggling gay masses in the east.

Figures...its called homophobia...and most likely many are on the downlow.

On another note: It's outrageous that Black's speech was censored. It's also outrageous that our LGBT brothers and sisters are censored (and worse) everyday in oppressive countries around the world. Why is it that we, as a community, get all up in arms when a twinky white American guy gets his televised speech censored in India, Malaysia and Singapore, but don't do the same for the everyday censorship and atrocities towards LGBT people in those same countries?

I admit, I am just as guilty as anyone on this. I'm so focused on what's going on in this country that it generally doesn't enter my mind. But when it does and I pause to reflect, it seems messed up. I mean, Dustin Lance Black is doing just fine - probably better than fine - even though he was censored. And this story is all over the gay media. Yet the activists on the ground who face real oppression and threats to their lives for speaking out get pushed to the back pages, if they are covered at all.

Anyway, I just went to Amnesty International's OUTFRONT! page, which documents human rights abuses against LGBT people world-wide and signed up for their e-mail alerts. I suggest everyone do the same. If a letter or e-mail can help a comrade in a repressive country avoid torture, I think it's the least I can do.

That's a great idea, Sam. I'm doing the same. :)

I agree with a lot of what coloredqueer has to say here. I think that we fall into that a lot in the US, where we think that young (or old) gay and lesbian folk everywhere share the same experiences we do. The truth is that many of them don't, often for reasons of gender, nationality, race, and class.

For example, you imagine young gay and lesbian folk in other countries waiting for the oscars on TV and getting a message of hope from the speeches. You imagine that they feel about their sexuality, and act on it and hide it, in much the same way you did. Which, I suppose, is a good beginning to understanding the way people all over the world feel, but it's not accurate and has huge limitations.

We ought to realize that "gay" is a specific idea that exists in a specific culture and time, namely Western culture after the industrial revolution. In the 1500's in Persia, a place that was really good for the same-sex lovin', people didn't think of sexuality in the same terms as today in the US. In Hellenistic Greece, men were having sex all over with one another, but even the men who participated in that would marry women. They weren't at all closeted, the way we see married men who have sex with men in the US right now - they just understood marriage and homosexuality differently than we do.

I'm not saying it's bad to think about what will give these people hope, but maybe we can approach from a perspective of listening to what they want instead of assuming it's what we want. Because, since colonialism, the West has always assumed that everyone else is the same, only less advanced. We're the hope, they're still in darkness. We're the future, they're the past. If only we can help them advance, like we helped bring democracy to Iraq, then they'd be like us.

Although I do agree that the censorship is wrong. It's a way of cleaning up a foreign culture (we're just as foreign to them as they are to us) in much the same way that the film Slumdog Millionaire cleaned up poverty in India for Western viewers.

And I know that last paragraph is loaded with Western values (like free speech, sharing ideas, authenticity of culture), but, well, I'm sticking to it. :)

Here we go again with those evil POC routine. Yes only enlightened westerners can teach those foreigners about freedom and love. While you were busy pointing fingers an ocean away you completely ignored the fact that a known bigot, Jerry Lewis was given an award. A man that has repeatedly used the word faggot, told gay jokes and implied on more than one occasion that gay men are not people received a standing ovation from your ever so advanced western crowd and you had not one word to say about it. I guess when homophobia is done by a group of largely white western elites it is not problematic right? Before you start pointing fingers, how about you clean up the mess in your own yard.

Andrew Conte | February 26, 2009 7:14 AM

Amen Bro (and, yes.... I am white... well I am Italian and live in the south, so I guess not)