Director:Yih Wen Chen, Malaysia
In a predominantly Islamic Malaysia, a Muslim queer punk band, Shh…Diam! led by transman Faris Saad are rebels with a cause – he is fighting for a space to exist and to be accepted by his family and the society through his music, in the midst of conservative traditions and religious boundaries.
Faris Saad is a Muslim transgender man with a mission. He seeks to use his music to bring awareness to the social injustice, freedom of expression and human rights to Malaysia, a country that sees human rights and freedom of expression severely curtailed by a conservative Muslim majority led government. It poses a personal challenge and risk for Faris, who is a transman, currently awaiting final gender reassignment surgery which is banned in Malaysia.
Faris is the lead singer of Shh..Diam!, the one and only openly Muslim queer and punk bank in Malaysia. Together with his bisexual cousin, Yon and lesbian bassist Yoyo, they fearlessly fight for LGBT rights through their music.
Faris comes from a traditional Musilm family, with a sister who loves him but does not accept the LGBTQi life. His mother still calls him by his birth name in the belief that this is just a phase and one day he will return to his birth gender. In the meantime, they share a bond through their common love for cooking. Never mind that Faris is living with his British partner, Jade, who has relocated from Hong Kong to be with him. At least with Jade’s family, they are both welcomed and accepted as a couple.
Faris has no other choice but to reside in Malaysia. But how can he normalise his life with Jade so that they can live together as an acceptable part of the Malaysian society? Will the politics and religion fervor in Malaysia create fissures in their relationship and its outlook for the future? Can Faris continue to be an “out” transman fighting for social equality and justice in Malaysia? And most importantly, how can Faris find enough money to be able to complete his gender reassignment?
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are limited in Asia compared to many areas in the world. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch report, Malaysia ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for transgender people. There are discriminatory laws with jail time and/ or fine for being a transgender. Several transwomen were murdered. A Muslim lesbian couple were caned by the Islamic Syariah court. Most recently, a group of Muslim gay men are facing jail time and fine after getting caught having sex. Faris’ home was raided by religious authorities and he has been subjected to routine police checks. 60% of the population in Malaysia practise Islam. Today, the conservative Islamist party is part of the Malaysian government – the most powerful they have ever been in 40 years. Their agenda is to implement stricter Islamic laws, including against sexual and gender minorities.
As a Chinese woman in Malaysia, I am treated as a second class citizen where racism and patriarchy is very much alive. Even though Faris and I have different struggles in finding our place in society, I do know how it’s like to have to fight extra hard to belong.
Shh..Diam is an important film to make because it’s not only a freedom of expression for the profiles but also for myself, as a filmmaker. Under Malaysia’s censorship laws, this film will very likely be banned. Because of these, it is even more important to amplify the impact campaign to spark change in people’s perception.
Wen is an emerging documentary filmmaker from Malaysia. In the last decade, she edited, wrote, produced and directed international documentaries. Her first feature length documentary, Eye on the Ball, about Malaysia’s national blind football team premiered in London in September 2019.
Her second creative documentary, Shh…Diam won Best International Pitch at Doc Edge New Zealand and has been workshopped at American Film Showcase, Docs by the Sea and Docedge Kolkata. The project also received support from Goethe-Institut Malaysia and Malaysian Documentary Association (MyDocs).