George Clooney Criticised for Firing a “Warning Shot” at Malaysia 

Critics and regional LGBT+ activists are up in arms over the Oscar-winning actor’s comment.
Wednesday 15 May 2019
Good intentions gone wrong? Photo: AFP

Appearing on popular daytime US talk show Ellen, hosted by openly gay American comedian Ellen DeGeneres, George Clooney discussed the boycott of luxury hotels owned by Brunei which he led in late March. The oil-rich state had announced plans to impose the death penalty, including by stoning for gay sex or adultery as part of its harsh new Sharia laws.

A total of nine Brunei-owned hotels in the US and Europe were boycotted by a score of celebrities including Clooney, DeGeneres, Elton John, and Billie Jean King. This led to a global outcry, the economic pressure that followed after the announcement of the new laws, and the U-turn in which Brunei said the death penalty would not be imposed.

Brunei Sultan - clooney
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah delivers a speech during an event in Bandar Seri Begawan on 3 April 2019. Photo: AFP

On Ellen last Friday (10 May), Clooney said the boycott was a “warning shot” to Indonesia and Malaysia should they consider introducing similar anti-gay laws. “It’s not fixed yet … but it’s a huge step forward after this giant leap backwards,” Mr Clooney told DeGeneres.

“It sends a warning shot over to countries like Indonesia and Malaysia – who are also considering these laws – that the business people, the big banks, those guys are going to say ‘don’t even get into that business’,” he added.

His remarks sparked an online backlash, with critics and regional LGBT+ activists pointing out major differences between Brunei and the aforementioned neighbouring countries. “I call on George Clooney and Hollywood to listen and work together with local activists and human rights defenders on the ground,” PELANGI Campaign president Numan Afifi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

PELANGI (which means rainbow, a symbol of LGBT pride) Campaign is an LGBT+ advocacy in Malaysia. “Local activists have been putting their lives at risk on the ground working for years. His statement, while well-meaning, might also be counterproductive for our case,” he added.

LGBT - clooney
Photo: iStock

Malaysian Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Marzuki Yahya also affirmed that while Malaysia will not budge from its stand on the LGBT issue, the Southeast Asian country does not support the death penalty as part of anti-LGBT laws. “I think (Clooney) had better watch what he says,” local paper New Straits Times quoted Marzuki as saying.

Clooney’s representatives did not immediately respond to e-mailed requests for comment, Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.

Sources: Reuters, New Straits Times

Related: Is the Sultan of Brunei Imposing Sharia Law to Clean Up His Family’s Image?