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FROM the Bon Odori festival to the recent Mat Kilau fiasco, there has been much talk about unity in Malaysia, being a multiracial society.

Mat Kilau is, unquestionably, a successful local film meant to elevate the spirit of Malay nationalism and a milestone for local production as described by director Shamsul Yusof, who said “the number speaks for itself”.

However, as a non-Malay, watching the movie twice expanded my thought process away from the heated discussion in local media.

First, public discussion has been orientated around racial and religious sentiments overlooking the other side of the same coin. One strong message left out, is the stereotype towards young leadership. A group of veteran leaders who were initially sceptical of the appointment of Kilau as a young leader for jihad, with reasons he is “immature” and “inexperienced”, could reflect the true colours of Malaysian society. Many youth movements in the nation have been actively battling these perceptions through activism and political discourse.

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Having said that, local film producers play an imperative role in portraying unity that highlights inclusivity to Malaysians, especially the younger audience. Being a certified civic education trainer, I noticed that the most common answers from the younger generation when talking about “unity”, are always “multiracial society”, “festival” or even “Malay, Chinese and Indian”.

Superficial examples like these may have clouded their judgments. There is also the tendency to stop questioning on ideologies instilled by institutions.

Films are a good propaganda tool, but bear in mind, the approaches should be inclusive to convey the right message to the audience while opening up spaces for them to understand the ideas of unity in diversity within Malaysia’s multiethnic landscape. Films could also influence one to think critically and wisely. Hence, local productions should focus more on stories that emphasise values of unity in diversity and inclusivity, instead of leaning towards a racially homogenous narrative.

Kanang anak Langkau: The Iban Warrior, a 2017 Malaysian biographical historical drama film directed by Bade Azmi, could be a good theme to enhance a sense of unity among ALL Malaysians. Many youngsters are not even taught about the other races and cultures in Malaysia, how could we even say that our country has achieved unity?

French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu explains that existing cultural forms, values, practices, and shared understandings (norms) are transmitted from generation to generation. In other words, any form of reproduced culture, would be passed on from person to person or from society to society. In view of that, young people ought to utilise all resources they could reach, to grasp comprehension of history and nation’s development. The History textbook should not be the only trustworthy resource to understand our “country” – the place you call home.

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