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Film investigating British colonial violence in Malaya premieres in Wolverhampton

Film investigating British colonial violence in Malaya premieres in Wolverhampton

A new film exploring the aftermath of a 1948 massacre of Chinese plantation workers at Batang Kali by British soldiers in Malaya will premiere at the University of Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre on 20 April 2023. 

The production, Smith in Malaya, narrated by actor Raymond Waring, an actor and producer known for his roles in No Time to Die, 28 Weeks Later and 24 Hour Party People, is a new absurdist documentary fiction film by experimental filmmaker and photographer, Paul Antick, that uses a soldier’s photograph album, compiled in Malaya between 1950 and 1953, to reflect on the relationship between photography, fantasy, historical memory, and power.   

The film cast and crew will be in attendance at the red-carpet premiere and Sebastian Groes, Professor of English Literature in the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Humanities, will introduce the film. Following the screening there will be a discussion with Paul Antick, Rosalind Parr, Lecturer in Modern History at the University, Russell Prior, Senior Lecturer for Film & TV Production at the University, and award-winning writer, Neal Ascherson, who served as a British soldier during the Malayan Emergency.  

The event has been organised by the University’s Centre for Transcultural and Transnational Research (CTTR) in collaboration with the Wolverhampton School of Art.   

Smith in Malaya was financially supported by the Memory Network, an Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Wellcome Trust funded research network that brings together scholars, scientists, artists and writers engaged in rethinking the role of memory in the Twenty First Century.  

Professor Groes said: “It’s great to be welcoming Paul to Wolverhampton. His work unites two research strands that our research centre encompasses – firstly, it is a transcultural exploration of power and the messy period of decolonisation during which the British tried to protect their economic interests – with violence and bloodshed. 

“But it is also about the vagaries of memory and history. This film argues that, in order to understand the past, you can only approach history as a fiction. We reconstruct the past through photographs of people, even if they are close family members, whose lives turn out to be quite alien to us – and the rest are gaps, scraps of information, and imagination.”     

Paul Antick said: ‘‘There’s something not quite right about this film. Like there’s something not quite right about what happened to the 24 innocent Chinese rubber tappers who were murdered at Batang Kali in 1948. Like there’s something not quite right about the “very British cover up” that followed.” 

The film starts in 2012 — 64 years after British soldiers shot dead twenty-four unarmed Chinese rubber tappers near the village of Batang Kali in Malaya (now Malaysia). Photographer Smith and citizen anthropologist, Willing, visit the site of the old plantation with members of the Batang Kali Action Committee. 

Transcultural and experimental, the film tells Willing’s story about the horrifying events that took place in 1948, including a series of fictional incidents involving a photograph album compiled by Smith’s father, who served as a British soldier in Malaya between 1950 and 1953. Even though we seem to gain much evidence about this atrocity, we simultaneously seem to move away from any kind of truth.   

Book your free tickets to the premiere here. 

Find out more about the University's research in the University’s eZene, Research Matters - showcasing our research successes and news from the sector.  

For more information about courses in the School of Humanities, check out the University website. 


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