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Empowering More Women in the Film Industry to Speak Up and Self-Regulate

A recent public dialogue hosted by the Content Forum delves into the ‘reel stories’ behind ‘reel women’ in the television and film industry



Over the years, the film industry has played a major role in harmfully stereotyping, shaping and portraying female characters. The most commonly seen are sexist portrayals of women who are seldom given lead roles but are often written into the movies to play stereotypical characters or to be exploited; used and abused or even raped.



This can be seen in popular films produced both locally and internationally where viewers have been fed with the notion that such exploitation and sexualization of women is both normal and acceptable. Recently, there has been increased awareness of this troubling issue with people protesting against harmful discrimination against women in media.

Speaking through experience about this matter on Twitter Spaces were notable women in the local film industry; Sharifah Amani, Sofia Jane, Susan Lankester, Fatimah Abu Bakar and Daiyan Trisha, in a no-holds-barred session moderated by Content Forum’s Executive Director Mediha Mahmood.

Among the highlights of this talk was rape scenes in movies, harassment in the industry and cyberbullying on social media.

Sharing her experience was Sharifah Amani who believed that the stories told on screen are the most important as it will ultimately reflect our society, the way we think, our culture and our language. “We have many strong women doing great things all over the world but our stories don’t often show these Malaysian women and their outstanding achievements,” she said. She confesses that she is no longer familiar with what she sees on TV and wonders whether the industry has strayed from what is most important - storytelling.

“Why can’t we have a scene with a husband and wife showing affection but rape scenes are okay? When we have stories where women fall in love with their rapists, what are we trying to teach the future generation?” she said.

Echoing her thoughts was Sofia Jane, who said that some men don’t even realise the impact rape scenes have on the community because it has been so normalised. She urged people to question how each story can impact the audience. “I’ve seen underaged unwed mothers in shelter homes who were raped. How will watching an interview with men normalising rape scenes impact them emotionally and mentally?” she said and added that she herself experienced the distressing impact of when a rape scene she acted in years ago was later spotlighted and trivialised as a joke. “The screenplays are no longer exploring emotions but exploiting them,” she said.

Meanwhile, Daiyan Trisha shared her views on harassment and believed that any form of it, either online or offline, is humiliating and should be stopped. “I have had my fair share of sexual harassment on-set and had my photos misused on several websites. I’ve spoken up about it time and again but to no avail. Ultimately, I just felt like I needed to get used to it, which is just pathetic but I didn’t know what else to do,” she said. She added that since now there is more awareness about these issues and a code of conduct for the industry to self-regulate, she hopes things will change for the better.

Fatimah Abu Bakar believes that there has been some change with people speaking out against sexism but she observes that they are fighting against a deep-set wall of bad attitudes. “It’s a long journey but if we believe that we are going to leave the arts as something that the younger generation would want to continue, we cannot give up. My advice for all is to continue calling these people out. Don’t tolerate this whole ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. If people think that such behaviour is common and was normalized before, we make it clear that it is not anymore,” she said.

Meanwhile, Susan Lankester said that there are even some women who are enablers to this bad culture in the film industry but she added that she sees a definite change. “Many actresses are now holding key positions and with this energy that’s started up now, I think the stories are getting better,” she said . “We should use social media to our advantage and focus on content that portrays women in a positive way. Girls and women should be empowered to tell their own stories and encourage their followers to do the same,” she added.

One of the ways to encourage better content is through self-regulation, where consumers are empowered to speak up for what is right and help the industry to grow. A useful resource for self-regulation is the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code (Content Code). Drawn up by the Content Forum in 2004, the Content Code is a set of guidelines outlining best practices and ethical standards for content creation and consumption across all digital media platforms.

“Self-regulation involves every single one of us in the content ecosystem. When offensive content is shown on television, people do call it out on social media but we highly encourage them to also lodge a report to the Content Forum. We are empowered to investigate and enforce the Content Code on those who have breached it,” Mediha said. “The content industry plays a huge role in advancing societal change, to push for reforms and calls for action. We will continue to have these important dialogues and involve all the stakeholders who can help to affect real change,” she added.

The Content Forum is currently in the midst of conducting a nationwide public consultation exercise, aimed at gathering feedback from members of the public on proposed revisions to the Content Code, including a provision to address online abuse and gender-based violence.

Members of the public are encouraged to provide feedback on this public consultation to ensure that Content Code version 2021 takes into account consumers current needs and concerns.
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