The Lucrative (And Brutal) Business Of Chicken Beauty Pageants In Malaysia

A group of filmmakers explore this little-known beauty pageant.

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The Lucrative (And Brutal) Business Of Chicken Beauty Pageants In Malaysia
Image: Discovery Channel Asia Pacific
Don’t you just love watching beauty pageants?
Whether it’s to admire the beautiful contestants, their striking gowns, or you’re just one of those who wait till the end to hear the Q&A about “world peace”, nowadays, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to beauty pageants.
You’ve got your Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Malaysia, Miss Sabah, Miss Sarawak, Miss Tourism International, and plenty more from all around the globe.
But there’s one particular beauty pageant that you may or may not have heard of, and it doesn’t exactly involve human beings.

Chicken beauty pageants.

Yup, it’s pretty much what the name suggests – a beauty pageant for chickens.
This unique competition originated right here in Malaysia - in Kelantan to be exact - and it has been around for decades!
You don’t find just any regular ayam kampung competing in these beauty pageants (no offense to ayam kampung). A special breed of chickens known as the Serama chickens, which are especially petite, are presented in this competition.
Serama chickens apparently came from a special breed of Malaysian and Japanese bantams, which basically means “small chickens”.
Serama chickens stand tall with style and confidence.
These small chickens were originally pets owned by state sultans in Malaysia. Some also believe that these birds were gifts from the King of Thailand to local sultans back in the day.
Hence the name Serama, which came from the word “Rama”, a title referring to Thai royalty.
Chicken beauty pageants take place every week all over Malaysia, and it has even spread to places like Indonesia, Thailand, and even the United States, Britain and France!

It's basically the Miss Universe of chickens 

At these pageants, the petite poultry are judged based on their wings, feathers, tail, colour and comb. Besides its looks, the chicken’s style and confidence also pose as a contributing factor to winning the title.
We know what you’re thinking; how do you even determine a chicken’s confidence?
Well, you can do so by paying attention to the way it walks, struts and puffs out its chest.
The special thing about this breed of Serama chickens is that they naturally stand with their heads lifted toward the sky and their wings downward. Some would say that they look like warriors ready for battle.
And you know what? Chickens with higher chances of winning the title can fetch up to USD10,000 (RM43,950)!

Not only that, you can even sell their eggs at a high price!
Enthusiastic chicken jockeys cheering on a champion chicken.
No wonder these chicken owners can practically make a living out of this business.

Documenting these chicken pageants 

To explore more about this bizarre chicken beauty pageant, a team of young filmmakers from Singapore travelled to Malaysia and Indonesia and made a short film out of it.
Amrit Kaur Jastol, Jessica Novia Sutrisno, Nurul Amirah Haris and Eunice Tan Hui En are communications graduates from Nanyang Technological University.

The cast and crew after dancing with chickens in the studio.
They also happen to be one of eight teams of budding filmmakers whose film made it into Discovery Channel Asia Pacific’s Jumpcut Asia, the network’s first Discovery series to launch digitally.

During a phone interview with Rojak Daily, Amrit said the whole thing started off as a school project.

"We did a documentary about chicken beauty pageants for our final year project, which won Best Documentary for our year.

"When we saw that Jumpcut Asia had an opening and they were looking for pitches, focusing on interesting stories around Southeast Asia that would appeal to the digital native, we decided that chicken beauty pageants would be a good fit," she exclaimed.

While this project seems like a fun thing to do, Amrit told us that it was the complete opposite as they all have full-time jobs and "had to work out a schedule that everyone can work with"

"We came to Malaysia and went to Indonesia over two weekends, so we shot for four days in each country," she said.

Also, despite re-exploring the same topic they have done before, they still faced challenges, even when they know their profiles and subjects, Amrit recounted.

"The candidness in some of the answers was lost. We decided to cut one profile altogether because the emotions for his soundbites were not there, so we decided not to feature him.

"This was the kind of considerations we had to make. Knowing the profile is good, but if you know them too well and they know the topic too well, the kind of emotion that you want from them may not be what you actually get," she said.

Behind the scenes of another episode, 'Singapore Confidential', which goes beneath Singapore’s glossy surface to reveal a side that only few know.

Filming the documentary wasn't for the faint-of-heart

Despite the punishing schedule, Amrit told us that it wasn't the worst thing about filming the documentary.

"The most unforgettable memory for us was definitely the surgery. The cameras were pointed at the table but our faces were turned away because we couldn’t handle it," she said.

According to Amrit, the surgery is meant to beautify the chickens - as brutal as it sounds.

"If they tail is crooked, they would sew it back together. Sometimes, they would also add feathers to make the feathers longer. They would also cut the comb or groom it and make it look more edgy. Sometimes, they would also sew up the chest so it would look higher."

Surely, showing these scenes on air, emotions and anger are bound to get stirred.

We asked Amrit how she plans to respond to the negativity they may potentially face regarding this story.
"This was something we had to consider while making the film because we know that there may be questions or concerns raised by the public. So, how are we going to present it? We can’t be celebrating it but we can’t be making a joke out of it either. We didn’t have the power to tell them not to do something because we made the choice to film it.

"So, the way we decided to approach it was to have it from the horse’s mouth itself. We presented it as how they presented to us. We’re not trying to colour it from our point of view. You can judge it based on what you think is right. But the reality is this is being done and it is happening."

But it was a good eye-opening experience, though

Filming the documentary might have taken a lot out of the team - "We had to pull many all-nighters. Amirah and I didn’t get to celebrate our birthdays recently," she said - but Amrit told us that she and the team would do it all over again if given the chance.

"We had to suck it up because we wanted to produce something that was very good as well. We see this as a good opportunity. We’re young filmmakers and we want to eventually produce something that we can be proud of.

"It can’t be done if we’re not willing to put in any effort or not willing to sacrifice because no one is going to do it for us. So we have no qualms about it."

And being on Jumpcut Asia is just the icing on the cake for Amrit & Co.
"It’s a great platform for first-time filmmakers like us. We’ve never done this at such a large scale before. It was very helpful that the Discovery teams who worked with us were very nice about it. They would guide us and give us suggestions on how to improve the film, which was very much welcomed.

"So, I would recommend anyone who has a good idea or story to pitch to Jumpcut Asia the next time around because it’s a very good platform to see what it’s like to produce a documentary with a big network in this industry. It was an eye-opening experience for us," she said.

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