Kids movies, gay Jesus and censorship

Banned films in Brazil and Vietnam sparks conversation about censorship. (Right photo: Jasmine Gidney/AQ, left photo submitted by Quyen Ai Truong)

Sofia Paura, a third-year St. Thomas University student, thought censorship was in the past until a Brazilian judge temporarily banned Netflix’s The First Temptation of Christ. It portrays a pot-smoking Mary and Jesus as a gay man.

The judge said banning the film would be the best for Brazil’s Christian community, which makes up most of the country’s population. According to a 2010 census, Christianity, specifically Catholicism and Protestantism, make up more than 85 per cent of the religion in Brazil.

Paura, who’s Catholic, said the response from some Brazilian Christians is hypocritical. She said it’s not uncommon for them to make fun of other cultures and religions, but when the jokes are aimed at Christians, they can’t take it.

“[Christians] sound like the mean girl in high school that will make fun of everyone, but you cannot say anything about her,” Paura said. 

What shocked Paura the most was the time and effort some Brazilians put into trying to censor the movie. She said some Brazilians threatened to cancel their Netflix accounts or threw insults at the Brazilian production company, Porta dos Fundos. But others went to more extreme measures.

On Christmas Eve, Porta dos Fundos’s office in Rio de Janeiro was attacked with Molotov cocktails, though no one was injured. 

Paura said censoring this film is like taking a step back to the dictatorship of the ’60s when artists weren’t allowed to release music without government approval.

She wants Brazilians to have the freedom to respectfully express their opinions. Paura hopes the government, and particularly President Jair Bolsonaro, won’t use censorship to control the media people consume.

“I’m afraid that one day this will be the norm, that we can’t say stuff or do stuff, which I don’t think is going to happen, but you never know because we have Brazilian Trump.”  

Professor Stewart Donovan, who teaches a variety of film courses at STU, said while Canada doesn’t have to worry much about censorship, certain Canadian broadcasts often leave out ideas, ideologies and politics they disapprove.

“Most censorship of film takes place in non-democratic developing countries where people want to be heard,” Donovan said in email.

Donovan said censorship stifles political, personal and cultural freedoms and shouldn’t be used except in circumstances like hate speech.

“Unless the films are some kind of historical epic, you rarely get films released that concern themselves with contemporary social and political subjects.”

Vietnam pulled Abominable, an animated children’s movie released in October, from theatres because it featured a map showing Chinese ownership over the South China Sea. 

Quyen Ai Truong, a fourth-year STU student from Vietnam, said she and most people in her country agree with the government’s decision.  

“This has always been a hot and controversial topic,” she said. “A part of our sea was stolen.” 

Truong said Vietnam regularly censors film. Graphic sex scenes, deep Eastern magic, mocking folk stories or culture, superstitious content and anything which would make the country or government look bad are all censored, she said. 

While Truong said she agrees with removing Abominable, she said directors should be given more creative freedom to allow controversial and diverse perspectives. She said it helps people understand other points of view and expand their knowledge. 

“You get to question stuff, which is better for your free will.”