Bangladesh won’t let its citizens see a film about its deadliest industrial accident

The movie centers on a real-life Rana Plaza survivor, Reshma Begum.
The movie centers on a real-life Rana Plaza survivor, Reshma Begum.
Image: AP Photo/Hasan Raza
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Movies can elicit strong emotions when they recreate traumatic events, and in Bangladesh, perhaps no subject matter more so than the deadly 2013 factory collapse at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which killed 1,134 and shook up the nation’s rapidly growing garment industry.

Now, a court in Bangladesh has declared a six-month ban on a movie that retells the story of a woman trapped in the rubble for 17 days, purportedly because of the graphic carnage it depicts. The decision, which applies to screenings both in Bangladesh and overseas, comes in response to a writ petition by a labor group that argues the movie, titled The Rana Plaza, would “negatively portray“ Bangladesh’s $25-billion apparel industry. Apparently the group is concerned that showing a factory riddled with safety hazards collapsing and killing more than 1,100 people would not arouse positive emotions for Bangladesh’s 4 million or more garment workers.

The court had previously instructed Nazrul Islam Khan, the movie’s director, to remove certain scenes that censors identified as “too cruel,” he told UCAnews, a Catholic news site, which Khan says he did.

“The film tried to portray unpleasant truths about the industry, not to harm its reputation, but to promote public awareness,” Khan said. He intends to appeal the ban, and called it a “conspiracy.”

A Bangladeshi movie theatre worker removes posters of a film “Rana Plaza” in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. Bangladesh's High Court has imposed a six-month ban on the screening of the movie about a garment worker who was rescued from the rubble 17 days after a five-story factory complex collapsed more than two years ago, killing more than 1,000 people.
A Bangladeshi man tears down posters for “Rana Plaza.”
Image: AP Photo/ A.M. Ahad

Bangladesh undoubtedly has much to protect in its garment industry. It accounts for nearly 82% of the country’s exports, and while its workers are notoriously underpaid, it has also been a path out of complete poverty for many. It’s so important to Bangladesh that the country is working to double its garment exports by 2021.

The story depicted in the movie centers on Reshma Begum, a real-life survivor of Rana Plaza who was caught in the building’s ruins for more than two weeks. She survived on four packs of cookies and water she luckily had with her.

After her rescue, she described her horrific ordeal. “Another person, a man, was near me. He asked for water. I could not help him. He died. He screamed, ‘Save me,’ but he died,” she said. “I will not work in a garment factory again.”

Reshma Begum went on to get a job as a “public area ambassador” at a five-star Westin in Dhaka afterward. The government arranged the position.

She has married her boyfriend since, and the movie also portrays their love affair, in keeping with the romantic style of Bangladeshi cinema. (Its Dhaka-centered film industry is known as Dhallywood.)

The Rana Plaza is also about Reshma’s love story, which tries to raise awareness about the life of the country’s millions of woman garment workers,” Khan told Agence France Press.

Women actually account for 80% of the garment industry’s workforce. And though they may identify in many respects with Reshma Begum and her story, it appears their industry isn’t keen to show them in graphic detail what it was like for her to be trapped in a collapsed factory for 17 days.