Are we Muppets?

Two years ago when ’50 Shades of Grey’ was first released, some of my friends and I, all of whom were the book series lovers, were so excited that we went on the first screening day in Vietnam. In contrary to expectations, incoherent and boring movie scenes had disappointed not only us but also other fans who had been looking forward to it. Surprisingly, this was not because of the movie itself. The reason behind the incoherence was that scenes considered as “sensitive” had been cut off by the Vietnamese national film censors. The movie, albeit banned under 18 years old audiences, still being checked several times during the screening period and ultimately cut off all of those “bed scenes”. This case study provokes me to think about the relationship between government regulations and media consumption within countries and how this may affect media quality.

’50 Shades of Grey’ is considered unsuitable for Vietnamese (or Asian countries in general) culture and customs. The movie censors perceive the film to be more of a pornography than a normal ‘educated’ movie. Many of the Asian countries including India, Kenya, Cambodia or Indonesia banned the film due to the same reason. In Vietnam, rather than being completely banned, sensitive scenes are all cut off and this means audiences have lost at least 30 minutes’ movie duration compared to the original version. While every scene connects to each other and together as a whole present one or more messages, cutting off scenes leads to low movie quality due to the inconsistency between details and lack of audiences’ complete experience.

There are a number of reasons for why governments are banning some of the foreign movies, especially the American ones. In Vietnam, there are no particular rules on restricting foreign movies to theatres. However, it is mentioned in movies screening law that all movies before being officially shown to the public have to get through the screening test by the national movie censors. This when movies cannot get through the test. Reasons for being banned include both reasonable ones, for example having excessive violent/sexual rates, and “silly” ones like being unsuitable for Vietnamese culture and customs.

I personally consider the “being unsuitable for Vietnamese culture and customs” reason to be unacceptable as it’s applied to those qualified movies which utilise most subjects that the authorities don’t “prefer”. These may include having backgrounds that the Vietnamese might not be familiar with (?), mentioning negative affairs of the current regime, speaking up the voice of citizens or recreating the Vietnamese culture during the reign of the Republic. Interestingly, most of those banned movies are excellent ones that have won prizes at international film festivals like Cannes and being expected a lot by the national audiences. This makes me think about is that really because of the movie that has problems itself, or the authorities are being afraid of changes in the current society and government orders or being dominant due to the introduction of other ways of thinking and other countries’ culture brought to the citizens through movies/media they’re consuming every day?

Although media regulations are published in order to protect audiences and promise to create the best media/movie experiences, there are cases that these rules are restricting audiences from accessing to a civilised film/media culture. Nevertheless, it is impossible to take any actions towards the situation while they are official regulations. This has brought us an obvious concern that people (like muppets), without any power towards the government law, are being controlled on what media they consume by the authorities and wanted or not, have limited access to the media they look forward to using.




Nhi Nguyen

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