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Thailand bans film about transgender father

By JOCELYN GECKER, Associated Press

BANGKOK -- Thailand's film board has banned a movie about a transgender father struggling to raise two children, a move the director says highlights the conservative side of Thai society despite its freewheeling reputation.

The National Film Board ruled earlier this week that the film, "Insects in the Backyard," cannot be shown in Thailand because it contains scenes that are immoral and pornographic.

Authorities have not yet published a public explanation of the ban issued Wednesday, but culture and film officials said the board objected to several scenes, including at least one that showed an explicit depiction of two men having sex.

Director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit said the scenes were crucial to the story line and could not be cut. She plans to appeal the ban.

"The problem with my film wasn't that it was a gay-themed movie - because there are many gay comedies allowed in Thailand," Tanwarin said in a telephone interview Friday. "My movie was banned because it was a serious movie. It showed there can be real problems when society cannot accept sexual differences."

Thailand is known to outsiders for its tolerance of a very visible transgender community, just one aspect of the country's look-the-other-way permissiveness that sometimes runs afoul of the government's efforts to maintain traditional Buddhist values.

Transgenders are regularly seen on TV soap operas and throughout Bangkok, working at department store cosmetics counters, popular restaurants and walking the runways in numerous transgender beauty pageants. The term describes a wide range of identities, including cross-dressers, transvestites, transsexuals and those born with the physical characteristics of both sexes.

"Our society tries to show it accepts differences - but actually it doesn't," Tanwarin said. "Thailand is still a conservative society. This is a case of the government using its power to suppress people with different opinions."

"Insects in the Backyard" is a drama about a transvestite and single father, played by Tanwarin, whose teenage son and daughter are torn by feelings of love and shame and eventually run away from home and turn to the sex trade.

Tanwarin, 37, says the movie was loosely based on her own life. Born as a boy, Tanwarin began crossdressing as a teenager.

The film, which was screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival in October, was previously rejected by Thailand's Censorship Board. Tanwarin was appealing the earlier decision to seek a limited theater run in Bangkok for audiences aged 20 and over.

Among the scenes deemed immoral by the film board were clips showing children in their school uniforms working in the sex industry, a dream sequence in which a son kills his father and the male sex scene that the board found too graphic, according to two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak before the ministry's official explanation is released.

"The movie was banned because it is deeply immoral," said one of the officials, a member of the Culture Ministry's Film and Video Screening Office, which is under the Department of Cultural Promotion and advised the Film Board to ban the film. He said it was "unnecessary" to show child sex workers and dreams of patricide that could be copied by young viewers.

The 21-member National Film Board is chaired by the prime minister and includes members of government agencies, academics and filmmakers. A majority voted to ban the movie.

"Members of the public might take a negative view of our ban," the official said. "But if they have an opportunity to watch the movie, they would understand why it was banned."

Panyapat Piyathamsawat contributed reporting.

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