An unprecedented public screening of “The Look of Silence,” a documentary about Indonesia’s state-organized mass killings in the 1960s, guised at the time as an anti-communist purge, attracted over 2,000 people from all walks of life to an overflowing theater at Central Jakarta’s Taman Ismail Marzuki earlier this week.
Films such as “The Look of Silence” and its companion “The Act of Killing” endeavor to confront the truth that as many as 1 million people in Indonesia were murdered at the state’s behest in the aftermath of the still-mysterious events of Sept. 30, 1965. While not banned outright — neither film has been submitted for approval by state censors — the very real threat of organized violence lingers such that these films have previously only been screened in secret.
That fear seems now to have evaporated.
People now want to know what really happened during that grim chapter of Indonesia’s history; it’s now clear that the truth is a tragedy is too big to hide.
This first public screening should serve as the first of many public screenings for similar movies that attempt to debunk the lies — circulated for decades as a kind of creation myth — that the New Order regime fed Indonesians for 32 years.
President Joko Widodo should take note of people’s support and rightful interest in this film and read it as demand for a leader of his stature to enable Indonesia to confront its past — and move on.
Joko must admit the state’s complicity in a crime against its own citizens, apologize on its behalf to victims and their families, and restore their dignity by clearing their names.
History cannot be unwritten, but the story we tell ourselves and our children can and must change. If our nation is ever to improve its standing in its own people’s eyes — to say nothing of the world’s — the stories we tell must evince reflection on our nation’s greatest shame. Jakarta Globe