A showcase of the best LGBTQ+ Feature Film for 2023.
#LOOKATME, 108min., Singapore, Drama/Family
Directed by Ken Kwek
When teenagers Sean and Ricky are invited to attend church with Sean’s girlfriend, they are treated to an Evangelical rock concert capped by a searing anti-LGBTQ sermon. Sean, a Youtuber, soon gets into trouble for dropping an outrageous video lampooning the megachurch’s pastor. He is widely condemned and prosecuted for flouting Singapore’s strict laws on public expression. As Sean descends into near-madness in prison, his gay twin brother, Ricky, gains prominence as a LGBTQ activist. Both find themselves at the heart of a culture war that spills out from social media into the real world.
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Most people already know Singapore to be a conservative country that has achieved huge prosperity at the expense of civil liberties. However, the true price of this trade-off is rarely seen or felt outside of Singapore. It is the only former British colony in the Asia Pacific that still retains Section 377A, the colonial-era law that criminalizes homosexuality, and its toll on gay men (and the wider LGBTQ community) has rarely been dramatised on film, and certainly never in a full-length feature.
That our Supreme Court recently threw out numerous appeals challenging 377A as unconstitutional is a legal drama of its own. However, #LookAtMe is more concerned about the social and personal consequences of anti-gay prejudice.
Gay and lesbian couples are of course not allowed to marry and have children here. One father who felt empowered enough to legally adopt his two surrogate children could not register his partner as a legal co-guardian. This couple’s kids will attend schools where homosexuality cannot be mentioned. The most extreme form of this silencing is the National Library’s pulping of a children’s book about two male penguins raising their young together. Needless to say the law also prevents educators from providing LGBTQ youths with sexuality education, or discussing important issues of consent and safety, or counseling queer kids about how to deal with bullying. Depression and rates of suicide
remain high in the community.
In the military, homosexuality is still classified as a mental disorder. In particular, since all males in Singapore are required to do National Service at 18, gay men are required to sign a form declaring their “disorder”– or remain in the closet, within the service and beyond.
Though we have Pink Dot (our version of an annual Pride rally), the event can only take place at Hong Lim Park and is literally barricaded to curtail movement and prevent non-Singaporeans from showing solidarity. In addition, the law imposes strict limits on corporate sponsorship of Pink Dot, and is thus primarily supported by generous donors and a few stalwart local entrepreneurs. We have no Pride Month, just five hours a year to lobby for the freedom to love, affirm the existence of LGBTQ people and show them they are not alone.
Not surprisingly, LGBTQ culture is rendered virtually invisible in Singapore mainstream society. TV or radio series on local networks will rarely depict LGBTQ character, unless they are predatory and/or diseased. Foreign celebs (Obama and Ellen Degeneres, Stephen Fry etc) are cut from shows whenever they speak of LGBTQ stories or issues.
Gay identity and healthy gay lives are simply erased from the mainstream media and pop culture of Singapore. It is the latter problem that #LookAtMe seeks most to redress, depicting a family where a gay young man is accepted and loved by his mother and brother in the most ordinary sort of way. Nancy Marzuki’s unstinting support of her sons in battling social and legal pressures, as well as threats from the Evangelical right, is inspired by real-life parallels — but I shan’t influence any film programmer’s viewing by drawing attention to the many scenes where fact has been mixed into fiction. What I will say is that depicting the Marzukis’ love, in all its intensity and banality, is unique and groundbreaking in Singapore cinema.
#LookAtMe is unlikely to compel any legal or political change. Nonetheless the film aims to shine a light on a pressing social issue, insisting that our friends, family and fellow citizens who are LGBTQ deserve equal freedom to choose who they love.
News & Reviews
- “Film Review “Asian Movie Pulsehttps://asianmoviepulse.com/2022/07/film-review-lookatme-2022-by-ken-kwek-july-23/
- “Film Review”Cinema Escapisthttps://www.cinemaescapist.com/2022/08/ken-kwek-look-at-me-movie-review/
- “Singapore’s LGBTQ attitudes and religious dogma fuel new film #LookAtMe”South China Morning Posthttps://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/entertainment/article/3187578/singapores-lgbtq-attitudes-and-religious-dogma-fuel-new
- “Singapore satire depicts family destroyed by homophobia”BBC Talking Movieshttps://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0cqylkr
- “Screen Team’s Top Films of 2022″Screen Dailyhttps://www.screendaily.com/features/team-screens-top-films-of-