A long and winding road: fighting stereotypes and information disorder in Tilik

Bu Tejo, played by Siti Fauziah (left), and Yu Ning, played by Brilliana Desy, in a scene from the film Tilik.

 

Short films are not usually the kind of thing to go viral in Indonesia. But the two-year-old short film Tilik (The Visit) surprisingly attracted more than 20 million viewers after it was published on YouTube on 17 August.

 

Directed by Wahyu Agung Prasetya and funded by the Yogyakarta provincial government, Tilik is a fictional film about a group of hijabed housewives (emak-emak) who travel together from their village to visit their female village head (Bu Lurah) in hospital. During the trip, the women gossip about a pretty unmarried woman from their village.

 

A relatively simple story, Tilik also portrays the problem of information disorder in a society that is highly connected online. Like the women in the film, many social media users live in echo chambers, where they encounter only information they want to believe, without any verification.

 

Tilik has been polarising. Many social media users have praised the film for being true to life. But many feminists have criticised the film, and have unfortunately been aggressively attacked on Twitter.

Women’s representation

Most of the online discussion on Tilik has focused on its representation of women. Some have argued that it challenges stereotypes of women, in particular, through the character of the female village head. Others argue that Tilik reinforces stereotypes of women as gossipers.  

 

On their journey, the women discuss the pretty young woman, Dian, and question her relationship with Bu Lurah’s son, Fikri. One of the women, Bu Tejo, mocks or criticises almost every aspect of Dian’s life: her profession, relationship, education, health, belongings, use of susuk (traditional beauty implants), and the wealth of her (single) mother. Bu Tejo uses this information to try to convince the other women that Dian is “a bad girl”.

 

Speaking the loudest, and having a literal big mouth, Bu Tejo is in the centre of the frame for much of the film, and dominates the film. She is supported by other women in the truck, Yu Sam and Bu Tri, and only one challenges her, Yu Ning. The others are mostly silent.

 

The film shows how women can suppress other women, either directly or behind their backs. Bu Tejo, Yu Sam and Bu Tri sideline Yu Ning when she attempts to offer a different narrative. They enjoy gossiping about Dian, an unmarried woman who does not wear a hijab. She is depicted as a pelakor (perebut laki orang), a sexist term for “the other woman”, and the women are afraid their husbands will fall for her.

 

Bu Tejo is not only nosy and bitchy, but is also portrayed as a corruptor. She gives a bribe to the truck driver, Gotrek, to support her husband’s attempt to become the new village head. Along with the rest of the women, she uses “the power of emak-emak” to threaten a policeman while violating the law.

 

It is true that women are represented in various ways in the film, for example, as a village head (Bu Lurah), as wives (Bu Tejo, Bu Tri), or individuals (Dian, Yu Ning, Yu Sam). But Tilik depicts women’s power in negative ways. Their main source of power comes from gossiping, bribe-giving and lawbreaking.

Information disorder

An important part of the film is the way that it shows how women internet users deal with information disorder.

 

Yu Ning is alone in efforts to combat information disorder, saying that “Not all information from the internet is true, we need to recheck”. But in the end, she is depicted as being at fault for failing to check whether Bu Lurah could receive visitors while in the ICU. Meanwhile, Bu Tejo, the main source of disinformation, triumphs over Yu Ning. By the end of the film, Yu Ning is muted.

 

None of the other women defend Yu Ning’s position when she challenges Bu Tejo. The film therefore perpetuates the idea that most women prefer to remain silent when faced with rumours or fabricated messages, because they value harmony over the truth.

 

Tilik is effective in demonstrating the major digital literacy problem faced by Indonesians. Unfortunately, it offers little hope in the fight against information disorder, and does little to motivate the audience to be more critical in consuming information from the internet.

 

The silencing of the only advocate for digital literacy in the film, Yu Ning, ends up depicting society as being trapped in information disorder and unable to do much about it. Disappointingly, it also depicts women as the only source of information disorder, when men are just as guilty.

Women’s perspectives and digital literacy in filmmaking

The stereotypical and misogynist representation of women of Tilik is reflective of the patriarchal film industry, where women filmmakers are still vastly outnumbered. The lack of critical thinking in dealing with information disorder in Tilik is reflective of low digital literacy, a problem that both women and men need to address.

 

It will be a long and winding road to fair representation of women in film and improved critical thinking in consuming information from the internet, where gossip too often passes for fact. The Tilik saga has shown the urgent need for digital literacy programs and feminist methods in filmmaking.

 

Novi Kurnia is a lecturer and the head of the postgraduate program at the Department of Communication Science at Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada. Novi completed her PhD at Flinders University, South Australia, in 2014. Her thesis was about women film directors and their films in post-New Order Indonesia.