The Singapore International Film Festival will be premiering a local film called ‘Citizen Hustler’ by filmmaker Tan Biyun next month.

Unfortunately, the film–slated to be aired for the first time on 5 December–has yet to receive a rating from the Board of Film Censors.

Cultural researcher and educator Wong Chee Ming (better known as Z’ming Cik online) highlighted this in a Facebook post on Sunday (15 Nov), asking if the topic of the aged poor is so “sensitive” in Singapore that the censorship board has to drag its feet in the approval process.

The post then included a quote from Ms Tan directly stating that it has been about two months of pending approval–yet the censorship board is still unable to give the film a rating.

Noting that the film doesn’t have nudity and only has one swear word–“the usual one worder to express frustration”–the filmmaker wonders if maybe it’s the ‘violence’ in the film that has caused the rating delay.

“My film documents a maverick old couple who was first evicted from the street market and lost their livelihood in their 60s (economic violence?), and when they turned to social welfare, they faced a wall of bureaucracy and language barriers,” said Ms Tan.

She adds that the plight of the aged poor is not unheard of in Singapore, with mainstream news featuring the elderly who work as cleaners, dishwashers, ice cream sellers and other poorly paying jobs.

“Even the struggles of social welfare recipients have gained exposure in the news, though I note with interest that, often, these news articles end with the recipients expressing their gratitude to the government even as they said that the monthly payout (ranging from $450 to 850) was not enough to live in our very expensive Singapore,” she added.

The artist said the subjects of her film are not the “docile types”.

“They expressed their anger and frustrations quite vociferously. They refused to just sit at home and keep the expenses down. They continued to sell their goods illegally (according to the state’s regulations) and go after every possible official scheme for additional help,” she says, adding that they want to live well, like all upwardly mobile Singaporeans.

The filmmaker notes that the inside story of welfare recipients “struggling in our anti-welfares state of Singapore” is detailed visually for the first time. While admitting that it is “not a pretty sight”, Ms Tan adds, “…this story is going to be repeated not only in the bodies of aged poor but also hollowed out middle class families as we live in an increasingly precarious world.”

“For crying out loud, can the censorship board move it quickly? This story is dying to be told,” she plead.

Watch an excerpt of Citizen Hustler:

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