Indonesian short film _Tilik_ fights female stereotypes instead of reinforcing them

The short film Tilik (Ladies on Top), directed by young filmmaker Wahyu Agung Prasetya, has become a social media sensation in Indonesia.

It was uploaded to YouTube on 17 August 2020. Since then it has earned more than 16 million views and generated mixed reactions among netizens.

Utilising the “road movie” genre, Tilik narrates the trip of a group of women from a rural area as they ride on the back of a truck to visit their sick Bu Lurah (village female head) in the hospital.

On the way, these women gossip enthusiastically about a young woman named Dian who allegedly has “improper” jobs and a romantic relationship with Bu Lurah’s son (Fikri).

The audience and fellow filmmakers have praised Tilik for its great cinematography and acting. However, it also drew controversy for its supposedly objectionable portrayal of women.

Many critics argue Tilik glorifies certain stereotypes of women, such as perpetuating unverified gossip. The film’s ending also reinforces the negative stigma against women as “homewreckers”.

Another critic describes this film as “misogynist” since it allegedly despises and is strongly prejudiced against women.

However, I believe Tilik is more complex than that due to the diverse women it portrays.

Looking at different angles

Looking closely into Tilik’s narrative and the portrayal of its characters, women take centre stage in this film.

UK film expert Steve Neale explains that stereotyped characters in film provide “a stable and repetitive structure of character traits”.

The diverse cast of women in this film, from the notorious Bu Tejo to the mysterious Dian, offers varied and nuanced representations of women, thus disallowing a rigid portrayal of women in it.

Bu Tejo (wearing green scarf) talks to another village woman. Ravacana Films

Hence, it can be said the stereotyping of women is largely absent from this film.

In Indonesia, women tend to be portrayed in domestic roles or in marginal positions due the society’s strong patriarchal culture.

Tilik has tried to break this stereotype with its Bu Lurah character. The village these women inhabited has a female leader. She is not only portrayed as a capable woman for leading the village, but she is also a beloved leader. The villagers eagerly took the initiative to visit her once they learnt of her hospitalisation.

In fact, the backstory about her runs counter to conservative social norms.

This is because Bu Lurah became a single mother who lived with her son after divorcing her husband, Minto. This runs counter to the image of women we often see in the mainstream media like television, where women are mostly represented as an accessory to their male spouses or relatives.

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