Madame X vs. Homophobia

The 28th Imagine Festival in Amsterdam showed the Indonesian movie Madame X, directed by Lucky Kuswandi. It is a hilarious yet multilayered film about the extravagant superhero Madame X starring Amink Sugandhi, a well-known comedian in Extravaganza on Trans TV. One of the layers of the movie is a social complaint against religious fanaticism. The film’s premiere coincided with the passing of the anti-pornography law in 2010. This law is widely regarded as a step towards a strict Islamic Law. The nightlife people like dancers and transsexuals are at risk at being arrested or, like in the movie, attacked by homophobic gangs.

by Charlie Crooijmans

The story is about Adam, a transvestite who works as a hairdresser. On his birthday an obscure fashionista comes to get a new hairstyle and warns him that danger is coming. At night Adam meets his boyfriend who appears to be a pimp, sending Adam to please a costumer. Unfortunately this guy is not a lonely loser seeking for some love but the leader of the National Morality Front. The whole gang is in the house and they load all of the ‘queers’ in an open truck. Somehow Adam escapes and ends up, half shattered, at a dance school belonging to tante Yantje and om Rudi. They speak half Indonesian and half Dutch*.

How and when Adam became a superhero? Aunt Yantje is convinced that Adam is the Chosen One. The only way to be sure is to train him the art of the lenggok dance, a traditional dance with martial art elements, traditionally associated with prostitution. Somehow – through a process involving a high tech ‘superhero incubator’ – Adam becomes Madame X, superhero extraordinaire. ‘She’ has two monsters to slay.

The first one is the abduction of girls (his fellow dancers) who were supposedly sent to a place like Saudi Arabia to earn money. Instead they are taken to Jakarta where they are drugged and forced to work as sex slaves. In reality this is a big problem in Indonesia; many women who left their families to earn money in a faraway country are in fact at the mercy of their bosses who often treat them like a slave. In the movie three witches are in charge of the operation. In reality time these woman are very popular celebrities – Titi Dwijayati and Shanty are popstars and Sarah Sechan is a MTV video jockey. Their presence in the film is a way to get a broader audience.

The second monster is Kanjeng Badai, a mysterious presidential candidate. His ‘crusade’ against homosexuality and his restrictive policies are at the core of what Adam is fighting against. Once again, oppression is getting more of a problem in a largely Islamic country even though the regime is secular. This anti-pornography law can make things worse. It is only natural, in the way that films like these are made, that the two men share a common history…

All in All, Madame X is a great film: funny, sexy, yet full of complex social issues. It looks like an animation comedy which enables the makers to address issues that would otherwise be considered off-limits. See the colorful upbeat trailer here:

* After the movie Amink explained at the festival that the use of the Dutch language is a retro thing. Among the younger generation there seems to be an emotional connection with the former colonists.

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