yasminahmadFilm director Yasmin Ahmad dies
KUALA LUMPUR: Award-winning film director Yasmin Ahmad has died from massive bleeding in the brain at the Damansara Specialist Hospital. She died at 11.25pm yesterday. She had undergone surgery following her collapse at the TV3 headquarters Seri Pentas on Thursday. The 51-year-old movie maker was famed for her advertisements and films capturing the essence of racial harmony in Malaysia. (By Nurbaiti Hanim and Zalinah Noordin, Sunday July 26, 2009, The Star Online)

The death of Malaysian film director Yasmin Ahmad affected many of us deeply. Here is a response from a good friend and brother, David Tan:

Her (Yasmin) works envisioned a society so guileless in ways we imagine Malaysia could never be multicultural, multiracial, multilingual, many selves going about lives in the most unself-conscious way. People were normal and the eccentricities of race or religion were not sharp edges to be avoided. Instead, in the world that Yasmin pictured and in the films she made, they were embraced — eyes unblinking — without irony or fear. People were people under their skin, immersed in the polyglot of everyday conversations that looked and sounded like Malaysia.

We weep at her passing because she painted a world where race relations was not a zero sum game, where differences were acknowledged, the difficulties of inter-cultural inter-religious, inter-racial relationships, sensitively and realistically portrayed, yet always with a note of hope that we could, on the basis of our common humanity, live together. Her portrayal of race relations gave flesh to a vision we could hope for, a destiny to work towards. With her gone, we have one person less who could paint this vision, and we have so few to begin with.

Every day, I am reminded that racism is one of the most obvious manifestations of the fallenness of humankind, and one of the most difficult to deal with. The recent incident in Harvard University where an Afro-American professor was arrested by a white police sergeant is a case in point.

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black professor at Harvard University, by Sgt. James Crowley, a white sergeant with the Cambridge, Mass., police department who was sent to investigate a possible burglary at Gates’ home. Although Crowley determined Gates was in his own home, he arrested Gates anyway after their encounter grew heated. The charges were quickly dropped, but Obama’s remarks at a news conference he said the police had “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates inflamed the debate. The president later said he should have expressed his concerns with different language. (Steven R. Hurst, ” ‘Beer diplomacy’ shows race still a flashpoint,” Associated Press, July 30, 2009)

The Scriptures give us no basis for any belief in a hierarchy of races. Humankind is united in creation. The privilege of bearing God’s image was given to all humanity. Hence the biblical account begins with Adam and Eve and not with Abraham. And what may be more significant is that humankind is united in their sin. As Paul reminds us, all of us, “black and yellow, red and white,” have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” The fact that sin cuts across all races should remind us to look at the plank in our own races’ eye before we attempt to remove the speck from the eye of our neighbour.

The impossibility of racism for the followers of Jesus is brought into sharper focus with the experiences of the early church.

Of decisive theological and ecclesiological significance is Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9ff. Through this it became clear that Gentiles were to be brought within the saving purposes of God, thereby revealing the universality of the gospel. In Peter’s words: I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right’ (Acts 10:34-35). (F.W. Bridger, “Race,” New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, Editors, David J. Atkinson, et al, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995, 718)

Racists of every colour, within the church or without, are going to have a real difficult time in the new heavens and the new earth because the biblical vision painted for us by John is one where Jesus, by His death on the Cross “purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9b TNIV).”

The multi-racial vision in the book of Revelation is also a reminder that any hope of “unity with diversity” is to be found in the common acknowledgement of the Lordship of the Lamb that was slain. We are grateful for the Yasmins of this world. Truth is truth wherever you find it and our Muslim friend helped us visualise what should be. But followers of Jesus will know that our ultimate hope of a world free of racism is our hope in a world yet to come. We belong to a fallen world still groaning for the full birthing of that new world (Romans 8:22-25).

We are to wait for that world patiently but not passively. Christians ought to be at the forefront of any effort to build bridges between different racial communities. We ought to be vigilant to ensure that the dignity of all races are protected. However, the onus will be on us to be that city on a hill that shows the way, demonstrating God’s heart for all races. God will hold us accountable if we do not take seriously our call to demonstrate a community where all races are welcomed and celebrated. The closest I get to this is when I visit a church pastored by another good friend. It is an international church with folks from many nations. I had the privilege of taking one of their church camps. The special celebration on the final night of the camp blew me away. Here, I thought, was a foretaste of heaven.

We will miss Yasmin, especially when the next Lunar New Year or Hari Raya comes around and we no longer have another creative advertisement from her to show us yet again, how different races can be in community. But even as we grieve for her, we continue to keep our eyes on that vision in Revelation 5, looking for that day. Come Lord Jesus.