Yasmin Ahmad (1958-2009) was born in Kampung Bukit Treh in Muar, Johor. Her father was a musician and her mother was a theatre director. Ahmad was the oldest of three children. She graduated from Newcastle University in England with a degree in arts and psychology. She was a marketing representative at IBM, a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, and later, the executive creative director at Leo Burnett Malaysia, an advertising agency in Kuala Lumpur (Bergan). After many years of working in advertising, she started to make films in her 40s.
Her first feature film, Rabun (2002), with its long takes and voice-overs, contemplates the love between an eldery couple and introduces their daughter, the character of Orked, whom Ahmad features in her other films (Bergan).
Ahmad’s next three films make up the critically acclaimed Orked trilogy: Sepet, Gubra, and Mukhsin (“Filmmaker”). Sepet is about the romantic relationship between Orked, a Malay girl, and Jason, a Chinese boy. This film engages with social issues such as the intersections of class, race, privilege and language (Bergan). Ahmad drew on her own life when writing the Orked trilogy; she was married to Abdullah Tan Yew Leong, a Chinese creative director in advertising. Despite the historical tensions between the Chinese and Malays, Ahmad focused on this inter-racial relationship between Orked and Jason and shot the film in Ipoh, a city where Chinese and Malay communities live close to each other (Bergan). Gubra continues to follow Orked, who is now married in the film, as she connects with Jason’s brother. There is a parallel storyline as well where a “devout Muslim couple befriends two prostitutes” (Bergan). Mukhsin is also a semi-autobiographical film that focuses on rural village life and follows the relationship between the 10-year-old protagonist and a 12-year-old boy, Mukhsin.
Ahmad’s last two completed films include Muallaf (2008) and Talentime (2009). Muallaf is about the religious conversion of two Musllim Malay sisters who find comfort in Catholicism, and Talentime follows three families living in a culturally and ethnically diverse society (Bergan).
Ahmad frequently received backlash from the Malaysian regime because her films often engaged with “inter-racial relations and teenage angst” (Bergan). She had to make eight cuts for Sepet to play in Malaysia. Muallaf was never shown in Malaysia even though some of the audio was muted.
Ahmad passed away from a stroke in 2009. Her legacy persists, and she is still an inspiration for many Malaysians and international audiences. She was admired for her bravery to tackle controversial issues in her films despite the adverse response from the Malaysian government. Fara Syazween, a producer, said “[Yasmin Ahmad] was a catalyst, she was the definition of change for the Malaysian film industry. She dared to be different, she was fearless” (Adreena).
Adreena, Iylia. “9 Years On: Malaysians Share Why They Love The Late Yasmin Ahmad So Much.” Rojak Daily, Measat Broadcast Network Systems, 25 July 2018, rojakdaily.com/entertainment/article/5494/9-years-on-malaysians-share-why-they-love-the-late-yasmin-ahmad-so-much.
Bergan, Ronald. “ Yasmin Ahmad.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Aug. 2009, www.theguardian.com/global/2009/aug/12/obituary-yasmin-ahmad.
“Filmmaker in Focus: Yasmin Ahmad.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/calendar/film.
Muhammad, Amir. “Deaths of Cinema: The Sweet and the Bitter: Yasmin Ahmad.” Cinema Scope, cinema-scope.com/cinema-scope-magazine/deaths-of-cinema-the-sweet-and-the-bitter-yasmin-ahmad/.
To cite this biofilmography, please use this reference: Ko, Emily (2021) "Yasmin Ahmad's biofilmography" Gynocine Project, Barbara Zecchi, ed.