‘We stand against censorship’: DGPI vs Senate on ‘Plane’
The move by some senators to ban the local screening of the American action-thriller “Plane,” starring Gerard Butler, due to its supposed negative portrayal of the Philippines is pointless, counterproductive, and against the right to freedom of expression, according to filmmaker Mark Meily, who is also president of the Directors’ Guild of the Philippines Inc. (DGPI).
“Even if we don’t show it to Filipinos, foreigners will still get to watch ‘Plane.’ They will still know what it’s about, including foreign audiences who aren’t so intelligent. This is actually a bigger concern,” said Meily in a recent interview with Inquirer Entertainment.
“Meanwhile, Filipinos who will not watch it in cinemas in regular situations will still be able to see it via the various streaming platforms, where most films—even those shown in cinemas—eventually end up,” he pointed out.
Meily also explained that the proposed banning of “Plane” does not actually help the local movie industry in its struggle to encourage more people to return to the cinemas. Jean-Francois Richet’s “Plane” features Butler as a commercial pilot whose plane crashes on Jolo island and its survivors are held hostage by extremists.
Senators claimed the film paints a “bad image” of the country as a place where authorities are afraid of rebels. The film premiered in the United States in January.
In a recent Senate session, Sen. Robin Padilla described the film as “unacceptable,” and then called the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to ban its scheduled public screening. Padilla’s views were supported by Senate president Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.
Meanwhile, the MTRCB, in a statement signed by chair Diorella Maria Sotto-Antonio, said it acknowledges the sentiments expressed by the lawmakers in relation to the film.
“Although the film is fictional, we still would not want our country to be portrayed in a negative and inaccurate light,” she stated. “The MTRCB will reevaluate the film in view of their concerns and will take all necessary measures if found to be in any way injurious to the prestige of the Philippines or its people.”
To drive his point further, Meily gave this example. “Let’s say that after watching a certain film about the late Ninoy Aquino, the senators feel that it gives a negative image of our national hero. Will they also ask the MTRCB to prohibit the screening of the said movie? To censor films is not the job of the MTRCB. Do we propose to ban it if a portrayal of a character or a country is negative, even though we know that it is fictional? Doesn’t this go against our freedom of expression?”
Another example, Meily said, is the film called “Shotgun Wedding,” starring Jennifer Lopez, that was released in 2022. “It’s a reenactment of the kidnapping that happened at the Dos Palmas private resort in Coron, Palawan, [although the film was shot primarily in the Dominican Republic]. Why didn’t the Senate take notice of this one?” argued Meily. “It’s unfair to say that the MTRCB is not doing its job. Do we just kowtow to these politicians, who, when offended, would just ban a product or project?”
Meily continued: “Many filmmakers—I’m not saying they’re all from DGPI—do not agree with the film ‘Maid in Malacañang.’ However, we know that it is fictional, even though it is based on a true story. The dialogue in the movie did not come straight from the people concerned, but who are we to say it shouldn’t be shown? While we do not agree with the film, we still believe that there’s a need to protect our freedom of expression. This could be a precedent. It could open a can of worms.”
Trolls, fake news
According to the DGPI statement, “Agency and free choice must remain with the public, rather than imposed by politicians.”
The statement added: “If the state can tolerate free expression of trolls, fake news and historical revisionism without worrying about their effect on the country’s prestige, then the state can do the same for a work that members of the foreign press have already regarded as mindless B-movie entertainment rather than a reliable commentary on our country’s affairs.”
“We support allowing the film to screen, informing the public of any problematic claims it makes, inviting open debate, or simply ignoring the film altogether,” the DGPI added. “But we stand against censorship or banning the exhibition of this film from screening.”
As of this writing, the MTRCB announced in a statement that the film’s distributor, Screen Media Films Co., “has voluntarily pulled it out from public distribution due to the controversy surrounding the objected scenes.” The distributor also promised to provide the Board with a “new version” of the film for appropriate review and classification, the agency said.