Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo’s idea of remaking "Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI" — a Suharto-era propaganda movie that blames the 1965-1966 anti-communist pogrom on a failed coup d'état by the Indonesian Communist Party — for the benefit of today's millennials has ignited heated public debates.
To quell the controversy, Chief Security Minister Wiranto on Sunday (24/09) issued an official statement saying screenings of the original movie — that several Army institutions are planning ahead of Sept. 3o (the "30S" in the movie title) — should not be a cause for concern or public fights.
"Watching a historical film is necessary for the young generation, so they understand this country's history. We don't have to be ashamed, angry or offended. This is no reason for a polemic, or for people to fight each other," Wiranto said.
According to the former Army general, Jokowi’s idea for a reboot version of the film for the millennials is "a rational policy."
Last week, Indonesian Military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo said he had secured permission from Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo to hold screenings of the movie — that used to be broadcast on national TV every Sept. 3o since its release in 1984 until the fall of the dictator Suharto in 1998.
"Only the government can ban [the screenings]. We need to get our history straight. Many soldiers don’t even know [about that part of our history]," he said, as quoted by BeritaSatu.com.
Directed by the much-respected Arifin C. Noer, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Treachery of the Sept. 30 Coup) tells the story of the killings and supposed torture of six Indonesian Army generals on the night of Sept. 30, 1965, as part of a coup attempt against Indonesia's first president Sukarno by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
The often violent film used to be mandatory viewing for schoolchildren under Suharto, whose New Order government promoted the film as the official — and only — version of what happened on that fateful night.
The film depicts PKI members and especially the members of its women's organization, Gerwani, as sadists who take pleasure in torturing the Army officers.
The movie, perpetuating old stories published in Army newspapers in the days after the Sept. 30 incident, implied the Gerwani members even mutilated the officers’ private parts.
However, autopsy findings published in the 1980s showed the generals had died from gunshot wounds and that there was no sign of torture.
Since the fall of Suharto, it has been widely acknowledged that the movie contains many exaggerations, distortions of facts and anti-communist propaganda.
Many scholars and activist are now worried that screening the propaganda film again will mislead the younger generation and add fuel to the fire of the already burgeoning anti-communist sentiment.
Propaganda Movie is 'Annoying'
The chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's biggest Islamic organization, Said Aqil Siradj, supports Jokowi’s idea for a remake of the movie, but also suggested the government should put more money into making films of other significant events in Indonesian history, including the Bali Bombing and Thamrin Bombing, so the Indonesian public can learn about the history of terrorist attacks in the country.
As to the propaganda movie, Said said 65 percent of it is true but the rest are paddings from the director.
Senior actor Slamet Rahardjo said people should not get too skeptical about the president’s reboot idea.
"A film can't cause harm, but the audience can. It doesn’t matter to me if the movie is going to be screened again. I don’t like being told what to do, so I’m not going to tell [others] what to do, either," he said on Saturday as quoted by BeritaSatu.com.
However, Slamet did not deny that though historical films "should not lie," they are subject to the filmmaker’s ideology.
Meanwhile, legendary author — also a strident critic of Suharto's New Order — and Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ) rector Seno Gumira Ajidarma said the nearly five-hour movie is "annoying" and only interesting as an object of study.
"It's interesting to study the film, but it's not something to be enjoyed, let alone be a source of historical facts," he told Antara last Friday.
As to the remake idea, Seno said everyone is free to make their own version of what happened.
Additional reporting by Dina Fitri Anisa, Maria Fatima Bona and Yeremia Sukoyo of BeritaSatu.com.