This article considers two films by the Malaysian filmmaker Amir Muhammad, The Last Communist of 2006 and the Village People Radio Show of 2007. Both films are focused on the Malayan Emergency and the lives of a small group of Malayan communists. Through an engagement with Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Storyteller,” the analysis in this article examines the aesthetic forms that structure Amir’s films, namely nonlinear narratives, intertextuality, and the use of images and stories as comparative frames. This article argues that Amir’s films enable audiences to recognize how the truth of a communist past in Malaysia, both of its politics and suppression, inflects the present. The films provide an opening to recognize how the absence of communism today is the effect of the ideological clearing of all leftism that became the hallmark of the end of the British Empire in Malaysia. Communism is made meaningful in Amir’s films both as a lived experience and as a displacement that is absent from the postcolonial everyday.
The What-Has-Been and the Now of a Communist Past in Malaya in the Films of Amir Muhammad
Carlo Bonura is a comparative political theorist in the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London. His current research examines contemporary Islamic political thought in Southeast Asia. He is now working on a manuscript titled “Logics of Comparison: The Conceptualization of Islamic Liberalism and Comparative Political Thought,” which examines debates over Islamic liberalism in Malaysia and Indonesia. More generally, his scholarship investigates Thai politics and the ongoing conflict in southern Thailand as well as the politics of contemporary cinema in Southeast Asia.
Carlo Bonura; The What-Has-Been and the Now of a Communist Past in Malaya in the Films of Amir Muhammad. positions 1 February 2021; 29 (1): 47–65. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-8722769
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