Myanmar film industry fails to make changes towards gender discrimination, study finds

18 December 2018
Myanmar film industry fails to make changes towards gender discrimination, study finds
Aye Lei Tun, the leading author of the research

The Myanmar film industry tends to portray traditional gender roles and fails to make changes in gender discrimination and stereotype in recent films, according to Myanmar’s first gender-related study on Myanmar’s film industry launched in Yangon on Sunday.

Myanmar films are giving messages that traditional beliefs and assumptions toward woman are correct and need to be followed, said Aye Lei Tun, the leading author of the research, who pursued her master’s degree in gender studies in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

“As a Myanmar woman, you should not smoke”, “as you are a woman please behave politely and gently”. Aye Lei Tun quoted from four to five movies in her presentation to illustrate how Myanmar films reinforced the cultural norms which mandate that woman are gentle, weak and full of guile.
She also pointed out that these are metaphors and plots used repeatedly in old films and the Myanmar film industry failed to construct new knowledge and traditions.

Conducted by the Livelihood and Gender Research Team of Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation (EMReF), the Gender Awareness in Myanmar’s Film Industry study is a content-analysis based research focusing on 83 films released from 2016 to 2017 in Myanmar with key informant interviews and group discussion among people involved in the film industry.

“Film is not just for art’s sake, film is a mirror to reflect society,” said Dr Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi (Dr Mar), the first senior Burmese female scholar regarding gender studies at the University of Oxford, U.K. who also attended the report launch event.

Dr Mar regards the study as one of the best and the first research in Myanmar to find out what is going on in society and how film reflected and constructed stereotypes of gender in Myanmar society. “It presented our society and it gave a chance to analyze our society in a critical way,” she said.

Under a long period of Military rule, people lacked awareness about ethnic people and human rights, especially film curators, scriptwriters and directors became ignorant about human rights. “Human rights are not related to us for a long time,” said Aye Lei Tun. She emailed 20 actors and actress to conduct an interview of gender awareness in films, but only four of them accepted her invitation, as the rest of them “cannot find the time or have few ideas about the topic.”

Lack of knowledge in the current film industry is not the only problem, understanding of sexual harassment and human rights by censor board members are also need to be examined.

Starting in 1920, censor boards monitored the scenes in films and made a decision whether the films are appropriate to show to the public or not. Young filmmakers believe the censor boards pay more attention to content which integrated union and solidarity of the nation instead of harassment towards woman, children and persons with disabilities, according to the report.

Dr Mar said under longtime control of the military, Myanmar’s improvement of gender awareness is behind other South East Asian countries, she said Myanmar is the only country in South East Asia where woman’s status has decreased. And also, Myanmar has no law against domestic violence.

As Aye Lei Tun and the research team hoped, the report aimed to shed a light on the current situation of lack of gender awareness in the film industry and encourage filmmakers and censor board alongside audiences to build a more gender equal environment.