Malaysian director Ahmad dies at 51

Director of 'Mukshin' challenged racial, religious attitudes

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysian film director Yasmin Ahmad, whose films about inter-racial romance and religious attitudes sparked controversy in the mostly Muslim country, has died, local media reported on Sunday.

Yasmin, 51, died from a brain hemorrhage late on Saturday, media reports said.

Her movie "Mukshin," about first love among pre-teens, won an award at the Berlin Film Festival, while "Sepet," a tale of romance between a teenage Malay girl and a Chinese boy, won awards at film festivals in Japan and France.

In Malaysia, "Sepet" was nearly banned by the censors, but was finally approved with eight cuts to scenes discussing sex, racial stereotypes and involving some nudity.

In 2007, Islamic clerics railed against her movie "Muallaf," which means religious conversion, as the lead actress shaved her head for the role of a girl running away from an abusive father, saying it was immoral and encouraged women to behave like men.

"She had a big heart and vision that we usually don't understand. That's why people misunderstood her. But she never intended any malice," Fatimah Abu Bakar, an actress and close friend of Yasmin, was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper.