Associated Press Writer
Singapore cinemas will begin screening the movie "Brokeback Mountain" on Thursday in what critics say is a sign of loosening censorship in a country that bans gay sex.
"This shows they are willing to give more scope for homosexuality to be examined as an issue in popular culture," said Russell Heng, founder of People Like Us, a gay support group. However, he said the loosening of censorship regulations has been slow.
"Brokeback Mountain," a movie about two cowboys swept up in a love affair, is the front-runner at the March 5 Academy Awards in Los Angeles with eight nominations. The movie led the Jan. 16 Golden Globes with four wins, among them best dramatic film and best director for Ang Lee.
In Singapore, Lee's uncut film will be restricted to audiences over age 21, and promotional material carries a consumer advisory saying "Mature theme, sexual scenes."
Gay sex, defined by the Southeast Asian city-state as "an act of gross indecency," is punishable by a maximum of two years in jail. There have been few prosecutions.
Amy Chua, director of media content at the state Media Development Authority, said the Board of Film Censors allowed "Brokeback Mountain" to be screened because the film did not "promote or glamorize the lifestyle."
"As the entire film focuses on and revolves round the issue of homosexuality, the Board of Film Censors decided to rate it R21," she said in a statement.
"The aim is to provide adults with more choices while ensuring that the young are not exposed to content that is not intended for them," Chua said.
Singapore has in recent years relaxed censorship regulations for films and plays in an effort to loosen up and market itself as a media and arts center. But controls remain tight.
The popular Taiwanese movie "Formula 17," about two teenage boys falling in love, was banned in 2004 after regulations had been revised. The government said the Taiwanese movie was banned because it showed homosexuality as "normal, and a natural progression of society."
Singapore's censors also have cut scenes from films, such as one depicting two women kissing in the 2002 award-winning "The Hours," which starred Nicole Kidman.
Wong Lung Hsiang, a film critic and secretary of the Singapore Film Society, said authorities were gradually loosening controls.
"I think Singapore's view is that people in the heartland don't object to showcasing films with these themes _ even if they don't necessarily accept the lifestyle," Wong said. "Also, 'Brokeback Mountain' by today's standards is not very controversial. The two characters suffer a lot, the film is very tragic, it wins sympathy from the audience."
Brokeback Mountain avoids Singapore censors : The Guardian UK