Malaysians celebrate Michelle Yeoh’s Golden Globes win, but more needs to be done to elevate local filmmaking industry

Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh was widely celebrated in Malaysia after the Ipoh-born actress won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’.

Yet, the local film industry continues to struggle to make an impact beyond the nation’s shores.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done (in Malaysia),” said Datuk Kamil Othman, the former director-general of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas).

“Her (Yeoh’s) achievement is due to a lot of hard work on her part. She didn’t start (acting) yesterday. This is where you equate success in the film industry to a career path.

“When somebody graduates as an engineer or a scientist, he or she must be exposed to many things, and meet a lot of people, before going on to become a great engineer or scientist. It’s the same with actors and actresses.

“Having said that, it’s also about having the right environment to flourish,” he said.

Kamil admitted that Malaysia does not have an environment in which its local stars can explore their true potential.

“We have yet to address issues regarding perfecting the craft of acting and filmmaking.

“The reason? This industry is not seen as an economic sector. It’s seen as just entertainment.

“Imagine if Michelle Yeoh did not go to Hong Kong, and that she had remained in Malaysia. She’d still be the same person, but she may not be where she is today,” he added.

Yeoh had acted in Hong Kong movies before making a name for herself in Hollywood.

Kamil said exposure was important in the movie industry, adding that actors and actresses need to be in more films to gain more experience and exposure.

“The system should allow you the space to give your best, allow you to learn from mistakes, and to experiment. But this country doesn’t allow such things. We are not open to exposure.

“Most of our films are very domestic, so only Malaysians know Malaysians. We need to change that.”

Kamil said the fundamentals that are severely lacking in the Malaysian filmmaking industry are not being addressed systematically.

“Where is the policy in the country that says our films must be exported? There’s none. As such, people in the industry define the fundamentals themselves.”

“As I said earlier, many don’t see this (the film industry) as an economic sector.”

Kamil added that creating the right, and a healthy ecosystem are also key in ensuring that parents supported their children’s decision to venture into the film industry.

“How many parents today will allow their kids to become filmmakers or actors? All they hear about are actors and actresses out of jobs.

“Covid-19 happened in India, Japan, and South Korea, but filmmakers from these nations continued to produce movies. That’s because the industry there is recognised for its economic contributions. They also have a good support system.

“We here are overly dependent on the government, often relying on handouts.”

Kamil stressed that there were many actors and actresses of calibre in Malaysia.

Kamil, who once served the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) as its vice-president for creative industry strategy and policy, said decision-makers and stakeholders could take a leaf from Malaysia’s successes in the animation sphere.

“Just look at what we have done over the years… the results can be seen in the form of highly popular animation movies like ‘BoBoiBoy’, ‘Ejen Ali’ and ‘Mechamato’.

“MDEC looked at animation seriously. There is a formula and it’s certainly working. Why can’t we have a similar formula for filmmaking in general?

“In short, we have the components – the people – but not the mapping, or policies to take the industry and its practitioners to the next level,” he added.