Insensitive sinetron: Indonesian soap opera blasted for filming in Semeru shelter

Video screengrab showing a film crew shooting a scene at a Mount Semeru evacuation shelter.
Video screengrab showing a film crew shooting a scene at a Mount Semeru evacuation shelter.

Indonesians are incensed and calling for the boycott of a sinetron (soap opera) that has been heavily criticized for filming at a disaster site.

Recently, a volunteer at an evacuation shelter in Lumajang, East Java for citizens displaced by the mega Mount Semeru eruption earlier this month shared footage of two actors being filmed for an episode of Terpaksa Menikahi Tuan Muda (Forced to Marry the Young Master). 

“Where is your sense of empathy?” the text in the video says, accusing the sinetron’s crew of exploiting the victims’ grief for their gain.

“Lumajang is still grieving. The bodies of our fellow citizens are still buried under Semeru’s volcanic debris,” a poster calling for the boycott of the sinetron reads.

“Your team comes over to the evacuation shelter just to shoot. Not to mention the actor and actress embracing in front of children. You really broke our hearts.”

Rebecca Tamara, the actress in the scene, posted an apology on Instagram yesterday.

“I admit my fault in accepting the scene as directed. I don’t want to defend myself in this case,” she wrote, adding that this has been a valuable learning experience for her.

“I apologize once again and I am grieving with the victims of Semeru. I am with the victims of Semeru.”

Jakarta-based Verona Pictures, which produces the sinetron, said it obtained permission to film at the site but didn’t address the ethical considerations of using disaster victims as a backdrop to their TV show.

“The context of the story is that [the character] Amanda was volunteering in Semeru. This is what must be clarified, we didn’t just shoot there for the sake of it. Throughout the shoot, we coordinated with local authorities about our mission here,” line producer Dwi S Lobo told Detik today.

The latest data from Semeru put the death toll from the disaster at 51. Some 10,000 evacuees are staying at 410 shelters set up throughout the regency as residents are still on alert for follow-up eruptions.

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