Singapore is an ideal place to live in. It’s safe and generally clean with strict rules keeping things in order. Having lived here my whole life, I abide by the rules and see the logic behind most of them. However, there’s one law my beliefs clash with. Having a same-sex relationship is punishable by law, even though the regulations governing this are not strictly enforced. Despite having a philosophical difference with this law, this rule never affected me personally, until recently. The release of the teenage rom-com movie—Love, Simon—about a teen struggling to come out of the closet—made me think more deeply about anti-homosexual laws in the country I live in. While this movie has made waves in almost every country it has been released, the closeted teens of Singapore, unfortunately, won’t get the same sense of inclusion.
The “R21” rating effectively restricts anyone below the age of 21 from watching the movie. While I understand Singapore’s legal position on homosexuality, it’s a little abstruse on how forbidding teenagers from watching the movie is going to reduce the size of Singapore’s LGBTQ community. Personally, I really wanted to see the movie for its entertainment value. But there’s a wider societal benefit at stake too; there are certainly many teenagers in Singapore struggling with their own sexual orientation who may have found some emotional support, some affirmation that people like them exist around the world, from watching this milepost in blockbuster-style filmmaking.
The point was brought to life by an anecdote I discovered while scrolling on Instagram a few days ago. The story was about this girl who came out to her parents about her sexuality two years ago. As expected, her parents were not very happy with this revelation and the relationship between them grew sour. But, after watching Love Simon, her mother began to understand her daughter better and became more accepting. While there is a chance this could have been a made up story, the reality is that many teenagers struggling with their sexuality have found comforting solace after watching this film.
Another film that dealt with homosexual relationships was the best-picture nominee from 2017, Call me by Your Name. Though this movie is not explicitly about coming out, per say, it was also rated 21 in Singapore. Homosexual themes no doubt played a part in that film being rated 21, though certain explicit scenes involved more than the homosexual couple in the film. Call me By Your Name, however, presents a more reasoned decision on the part of the censors. Regardless of the genders involved, there was a certain explicit nature and maturity to several themes in the film. Love, Simon, on the other hand, is—by all critics worldwide—a fairly innocent teen rom-com rated PG 13. It is first and foremost a coming of age movie about a teenager, if—in a rather unique scenario—he happens to be gay. The film contains no sexually explicit scenes. In fact, it contains nothing of a particularly mature or adults-only nature because, as the film willfully suggests, these very issues are ones that teens around the world deal with. A film about teens, for teens
What is baffling is the treatment given to another lauded film, “The Shape of Water”, which portrays the story of a mute custodian who falls in love with a captured humanoid amphibian creature. This movie, which featured several explicit scenes of auto-eroticism and sexual intercourse between the human and the creature, was rated M18.
It’s interesting that, while this sexually explicit movie was deemed more suitable for viewing by people over the age of 18, Love Simon (an arguably more innocuous film, garnered an over 21 rating, the same given to pornography around the civilized world.) SAS contains a diverse range of students with people of different nationalities and different sexual orientation.
One student at our school (who chose to remain anonymous but identifies as a pansexual) said that he understood why Singapore had rated the movie R21: “I personally don’t think that the rating of the movie should change. I am aware that Singapore has a strong religious community, and it would not be favorably looked upon by that community if the rating were to change. In fact, there probably would be an uproar instead.” The student offered alternate solutions to teenagers not being allowed to watch it in Singapore. “There are many ways to watch a movie if you do wish to watch it, such as Netflix and streaming it online(or just watch it when you’re on vacation in a different, more lenient country.” He continued: “In the summer of 2016, “Les Misérables” came to Singapore and there was a minor moment during one of the songs where two men kissed—in the background—that raised quite a lot of controversy. So, changing the rating of the movie in Singapore would have a worse reaction than what “that minor moment” got. Hopefully, with time, this could become the norm and we would not have to be worried about how the population would react.”
I hope, too, that laws regarding homosexuality are relaxed over the years and movies as amazing as “Love, Simon” can be watched in Singapore. Yes, there are many means we can use as an alternative to watch the movie, but having it screened—rather, having it ACCEPTED as a viable and realistic story reflecting an everpresent reality—would be more effective for the teens searching for some affirmation that human sexual orientation is not something to be “censored.” Sure, any relaxation in Singapore’s laws might stir controversy. Clearly, we need to focus on ways to ease the community into accepting the idea of homosexuality as a natural phenomenon before we can screen films like Love, Simon.