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Thailand bans Thai-language film adaptation of 'Macbeth'

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 | 10:11 a.m. CDT

BANGKOK — Thailand's film censors have banned an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Macbeth," saying it could inflame political passions in the country where it is taboo to criticize the monarchy.

The Thai-language film "Shakespeare Must Die" tells the story of a theater group in a fictional country resembling Thailand that is staging a production of Macbeth, in which an ambitious general murders his way to the Scottish throne.

One of the film's main characters is a dictator named "Dear Leader," who bears a resemblance to former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra whose ouster in a 2006 coup sparked years of political turmoil between his supporters and critics.

Censors at the Culture Ministry issued a brief memo Tuesday saying that the film could not be distributed in Thailand because it "has content that causes divisiveness among the people of the nation." The memo did not specify which scenes were deemed offensive.

But, Ing K, the film's director, said the censorship committee objected to anti-monarchy overtones in the film as well as politically charged content, including a scene based on an iconic photo from Bangkok's 1976 student uprising showing a demonstrator being lynched.

"The committee questioned why we wanted to bring back violent pain from the past to make people angry," Ing K said in an interview Wednesday. The censors also disliked the attire of a murderer in the film, who wore a bright red hooded cloak — the same color worn by the pro-Thaksin demonstrators known as the "Red Shirts."

The director called the ruling "absurd" and a reflection of the fear in Thai society.

"I feel like we are heading to a very dark, dark place right now — a place full of fears and everyone has to be extra careful about what they say," Ing K said, saying the character resembling Thaksin could represent any leader accused of corruption and abuse of power.

"The character could represent anyone," she said. "When Cambodians watch this they'll think it's Hun Sen. When Libyans watch it they would think it's Gadhafi."

The film is the latest to run afoul of Thailand's censors, which cover a wide range of political and social offenses. Censors blur out cigarettes and alcohol on television and crack down on criticism of the monarchy.

Sensitivity over criticism of the monarchy has increased in recent years as the poor health of the country's 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej has elevated concern about a smooth succession. At the same time, sharp partisan political battles in the wake of the 2006 military coup have unleashed unprecedented questioning of established institutions, including the palace.

Last year, the film board banned a movie about a transgender father struggling to raise two children, called "Insects in the Backyard," saying it contained scenes that were immoral and pornographic.

Ing K said she plans to appeal the ban.


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