Harsh Public Criticism for Myanmar Academy Awards

By Lwin Mar Htun 28 March 2019

YANGON—Myanmar’s own Oscars, the Myanmar Motion Picture Academy Awards ceremony, was held on Saturday at The One Entertainment Park in Yangon, and proved one of the most controversial events in the local entertainment industry so far this year. Movie lovers have denounced the academy board’s awarding decisions as unfair and biased.

But this is not the first time the Academy Awards have caused disagreement. Last year’s event also stoked public argument when the awards for the Myanmar film industry, which is widely believed to be transforming and modernizing, failed to recognized the new style of creative movies made by emerging directors at the event.

In recent years, a small group of young local directors have begun a new creative wave of filmmaking in the stagnant Myanmar movie industry and their attempts have been highly praised by the public. Their movies are imaginative with strong storylines and this is in contrast to other local commercial movies which tend to be low-budget and lack imagination, using the same unrealistic dialogue repeatedly which are made by movie companies said to be more interested in making money than art.

Zenn Kyi and Christina Kyi attend the Academy Awards ceremony 2018. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

Last year, it was highly anticipated that “Mudras Calling,” a movie directed by Christina Kyi, which was screened at a number of international film festivals and won the Silver Palm Award at the Mexico Film Festival and a Platinum Award from The International Student, Newcomer, and Woman Movie Awards (ISENMA), would win at least one major award. However, Christina Kyi went home without a single award.

“We make the best decision and tried our best to be fair without personal feelings. Therefore, audiences should make a decision without personal feelings too,” board member of the Myanmar Academy Awards U Kyi Soe Tun told The Irrawaddy.

“The directors, actors and actresses who didn’t win the awards—it isn’t because of they aren’t good enough. The winners are a little bit smarter than them,” he said.

This year, another movie by Christina Kyi, “Oo Pel Tan Myin,” which smashed local box office records with eight straight weeks of screenings and which made its way as far a cinema screens in Singapore, did not win any Academy awards.

The film is a drama-thriller and used many new actors who underwent thorough training on acting and script reading before shooting. Movie goers were expecting the villain, supporting actor Aung Myint Myat, to win Best Supporting Actor but, again, he went home empty-handed.

People have strongly criticized the decision of the judging panel which is made up of members of the academy board and the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization, and critics are asking the question, Will the Myanmar film industry continue in the same old way?

“This year, the academy awarding ceremony was really shameful. Audiences are not stupid at all. Everyone knows who deserved to win the award,” said former Academy Award-winning movie star U Lwin Moe.

Director Na Gyi (director of “Mi”) and actress Paing Phyo Thu (leading actress) attending the 67th Myanmar Motion Picture Academy Awards ceremony on March 23, 2019. / Aung Kyaw Htet / The Irrawaddy

Another disappointment that fueled the audience’s anger was that a popular film called “Mi” won no awards.

“Mi,” the name of the main character, is a movie adaptation of a famous Myanmar novel by Kyi Aye and it was directed by Na Gyi. On its release, the film received glowing praise both from film critics and fellow artists for its directorial skill, the film’s preparation, cinematography, costume design and location setting. Myanmar audiences particularly appreciated the efforts made in even the smallest details like the props and décor which accurately reflected Myanmar society in the 1940s which is when the story is set.

It’s the first ever local movie which created an entire costume set and used a make-up style which was in fashion during that period, the 1940s. It impressed movie goers who were sure the movie would be awarded an Academy Award for best costume design at least.

Before the awarding ceremony started, speaking to a local TV channel which was live streaming the event, Christina Kyi said, “I came here to see whether the film industry will go [forward] with a new style or [choose to stick to] the same old methods. I don’t expect to win an award myself but I’m excited for the actors from my films.”

She added, “Now, filmmakers are separated into two groups and audiences are too. If the organization is going to give the awards to the same old acting, I will have to face more struggles in the future to work in this industry.”

By the end of the event, it’s likely Christina Kyi got a clear answer on the future of Myanmar’s movie industry where it’s likely there won’t be recognition for even the most outstanding modern movies made in Myanmar. Despite this being a continuing struggle for her, her loyal audiences hope she can produce more outstanding movies in the future.