‘Hanum’ vs ‘Ahok’: Indonesia’s political and culture wars go to the cinema

PHOTO: Instagram/@amancalledahok & @filmhanumrangga
PHOTO: Instagram/@amancalledahok & @filmhanumrangga

Two highly anticipated local movies hit Indonesian cinemas last Friday, Hanum & Rangga and A Man Called Ahok. But rather than purely be a source of entertainment, the two movies became a cause for conflict as supporters of the two films clashed online in a microcosm of Indonesia’s larger political and cultural divide.

On one side, there is a A Man Called Ahok, which tells the childhood story of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and the influence of his late father, Indra Tjahaja Purnama aka Tjoeng Kiem Nam, on his leadership. It is based on a book by social media personality and staunch President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo supporter Rudi Valinka.

On the other side there is Hanum & Rangga, a film produced by and based on a romantic biographical novel written by Hanum Salsabiela Rais, the daughter of National Mandate Party (PAN) founder and honorary chairman Amien Rais, who has been a staunch critic of Jokowi’s government and is one of presidential challenger Prabowo Subianto’s most influential supporters. Hanum herself is a cadre for PAN, a party that makes up the current opposition coalition against Jokowi’s government.

These two films were never likely to have much of a crossover audience thanks to their political affiliations (even though neither film delves into controversial politics). Those going to see A Man Called Ahok would most likely be supporters of Jokowi’s government due to their very close political relationship, while those who oppose Ahok and Jokowi would obviously prefer Hanum & Rangga due to its affiliation with Amien Rais, who was a major supporter of mass protests against then-Governor Ahok for his accusation of blasphemy against Islam — for which he was controversially sentenced to two years in prison and lost his bid for reelection in 2017.

But people on both sides of the divide decided to make the popularity of the two films into a (fairly flawed) gauge of the strength of their two political factions, leading to a social media “war” — not over which film was better, but over which had sold more tickets.

In one viral tweet, one user compared the seats availability in cinemas showing both films, erroneously claiming that Hanum had sold more tickets because the seats that were taken in an online ticket booking system were highlighted in red, when the opposite is actually true.


That tweet became fodder for many to ridicule those who watched Hanum (and by extension, were part of the opposition).


Take one sir, in case you don’t have one


Netizens are so silly. Screenings of Hanum & Rangga are actually full. But why are the seats green? That’s because those who watch it don’t sit down, they hang down from the ceiling (a common slang used as a slur against supporters of the opposition is “kampret”, meaning bat.)

It seems like Hanum really could have used some good PR to boost sales, but those involved in the film’s production didn’t do much to help their cause. In an Instagram comment, Hanum herself made a baseless accusation that those behind Ahok have been hoarding cinema tickets so it could appear like they sold out screenings, as captured here:

“Why would we do that, we don’t have the funds and we don’t see the need to lie to ourselves.”

Adding to that, a circular addressed to members of PAN made the rounds online last week. The circular, signed November 2, instructed them to attend screening parties for Hanum & Rangga. While PAN is, of course, entitled to hold screening parties for Hanum’s film, netizens couldn’t resist pointing out the irony of the mandatory movie watching, with comedian Ernest Prakasa’s now-viral tweet comparing it to the New Order era under President Soeharto — a regime Amien Rais himself fought hard to topple.

Feels like the New Order era, right?

PAN Vice Chairman Viva Yoga Mauladi confirmed on Monday that the circular is real and that it was issued due to requests from the party’s members to boost the film’s popularity.

In addition, Hanum and Rangga also sent a letter to the dean of her alma mater, Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta (UMS), asking the university to promote the film to students and staff. The letter was posted on the university’s Facebook page, but it was later taken down after netizens started to mock Hanum for what looked like a desperate attempt to get people to watch her movie.

Some netizen also politicized their movie preferences by saying they would boycott Hanum’s film because of her involvement in the infamous Ratna Sarumpaet conspiracy — particularly a viral video in which Hanum tearily defended Ratna before the former campaigner for presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto was found to have lied about being assaulted.


So which film actually won?

Despite all of the efforts to boost its ticket sales, Hanum managed to sell less than half as many tickets of Ahok. As of Monday, Hanum reportedly has been seen by 201,378 viewers compared to 587,747 for Ahok.



But of course, the ticket sales for these films don’t necessarily have any direct correlation with the number of people who either support or oppose Jokowi’s government. To us, the real losers are the average Indonesian cinema goers who just want to see a local movie without having to get caught up in real-life drama and debates. If more Indonesian films get caught up in identity politics as a marketing tool, then how many of us will just say screw it and go watch whatever big Hollywood blockbuster is playing yet again?

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