Creating spaces for dialogue: Exploring queer cinema in Southeast Asia

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Singapore

Publishing organisation: Kontinentalist

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-09-29

Language: English

Authors: Griselda Gabriele / Multimedia Designer & Author
Design & illustration / Munirah Mansoor
Data visualisation / Bianchi Dy


Griselda is an illustrator and multimedia designer. An avid fan of films and comics, she’s passionate about the way visual stories bring new perspectives and evoke deep emotions within their audience.

Munirah is a designer who enjoys exploring and reading up areas of her cultural roots from a Malay-archipelago perspective. She does mostly editorial illustrations and designs data-visualisations.

Bianchi is an urban scientist and artist trained in environmental engineering, with a passion for scientific communication and context-sensitive data storytelling. She collaborates with writers on research, data analysis, story angles and data visualisations and code implementation.

Project description:

Southeast Asian queer creators are familiar with having their stories hidden or overwritten, but with films as their medium of choice, they are gradually reclaiming their places in society’s narrative.

This story celebrates Southeast Asia’s queer cinema history. There are three main parts: exploring depictions of queerness in Southeast Asia’s traditions and local contexts (referred to as “vernacular queerness” in this story), analysing the changing perceptions around the queer community, and uplifting the community’s efforts in creating safe spaces for one another to freely express themselves.

Impact reached:

This story as well as the database was featured by several noteworthy LGBTQ+ organisations and individuals in the region such as ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Elsewhere Cinema Club, Kirsten Tan, U Bava Dharani, Pluto as well as Queer Asia Film Festival.
The story has also been used by educators at Future Forum Asia.

The story also drew attention from audience members across the region, and many used it as a repository for queer cinema in the region. It drew 644 unique page views with an average reading time of 3 and a half minutes. On Instagram, the story reached 8,398 accounts, being shared 397 times and garnered 953 likes.

Our research relied a lot on audience input on our crowdsourced database, as well as existing community-driven archival efforts and independent film events across the region. People from the queer community not only led us to lesser-known works, but gave us feedback in regards to our accuracy and sensitivity while discussing the community.

Techniques/technologies used:

The story uses a crowdsourced database of queer films made in Southeast Asia or by Southeast Asian creators as a base for its visualisations, as well as manually collected lists of film festivals and community spaces.

A combination of Flourish visualisations, Mapbox, and custom visualisations are used in the story. The section “Changing Perceptions” features two key visualisations: a timeline analysing the changing political landscape surrounding queer communities from 1970s to 2019, and a Flourish survey visualisation that provides a bird’s-eye view of Southeast Asia’s queer cinema development.

At the end of the story, readers are invited to explore a Mapbox map of queer-friendly collectives and an interactive database of the queer films we collected.

Context about the project:

Queer films, and queer communities in general, typically have to stay under the radar in most of Southeast Asia. One of the issues discussed in the story, and part of why this story is so important, is the lack of widely available information on queer expressions, queer community spaces, and even laws surrounding queerness. Struggles or instances of censorship are often only known through word-of-mouth.

Queer films rarely reach mainstream cinema due to censorship or lack of resources (with a few exceptions such as the Philippines), which makes data collection a bit difficult. Many films are scattered in film festivals, Youtube links, and blogs. Language barrier also added a layer of difficulty.

These difficulties, however, showed us the importance of community-driven data collection and preservation which served as the basis for the story.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Queerness is a broad topic that is constantly expanded and questioned. While Western LGBTQIA+ labels have become more widely accepted, there are a lot of queer expressions that go beyond these labels.

Discussions about media queer representation in recent times can often focus on what counts as “good” representation, but we learned that it was especially important to be open to diversity of queer expressions and experiences. This is reflected in the data collection and cleanup process, where we decided not to be limited by clear explicit labels but rather look for exploration of gender, sexuality, and relationship dynamics.

This approach is especially important in Southeast Asia, whose queer communities are familiar with censorship by authorities and invisibility in global context. Discussions of queer issues often intersect with decolonisation. A lot of care is put into looking for research materials that come from the region or question Western-centric ways of thinking. As previously mentioned, it was important to rely on community-driven archival efforts and independent film events in the region.

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