Johannesburg - The producers of Inxeba (The Wound) and leading South African film industry players say the fight over the movie being reclassified as pornographic by the state’s Film and Publication Board (FPB) is far from over. They have vowed to take the matter to court.
They accuse the FPB of censorship, homophobia and of not following its own governing act or classification guidelines by overturning the controversial, award-winning gay Xhosa initiation movie’s original 16 LS (language and sex) rating to X18 (explicit sex) instead, on Wednesday.
This was the outcome of an appeal brought by the Gauteng branch of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA (Contralesa) and cultural organisation the Man and Boy Foundation.
The movie was removed from all mainstream cinemas because X18 films are allowed to be shown only in “bona fide adult venues registered with the FPB”.
A committee of three classifiers gave the film its original 16 LS rating. Appeals like the one brought by Contralesa, however, are heard by an independent tribunal within the FPB. The industry’s anger is targeted at the tribunal.
The SA Screen Federation (Sasfed), which represents the majority of industry bodies, joined the fray on Friday night. Acclaimed documentary film maker and Sasfed chair Rehad Desai said the federation “is utterly dismayed about this decision to essentially ban this important and beautifully told story ... We are intent on presenting a legal challenge to the FPB, which we are confident we will win.”
Desai said Sasfed intended lodging a formal appeal on the basis that “due procedure was ignored in the reclassification of the film”.
Inxeba’s legal representative Sekoetlane Phamodi pointed out that the Films and Publications Act of 1996 states that in the case of a classification appeal the film makers must be given the right to make representation.
FPB spokesperson Manala Botolo insisted the board followed the rules: “The distributor who had submitted the film for classification was informed of the appeal and provided with an opportunity to provide oral representations by the appeals tribunal.”
But Phamodi said: “We wrote to the FPB to be given the space to exercise our rights to be heard and represented. We requested seven days to prepare arguments to be heard and considered by the tribunal. We were told the tribunal had no intention of inviting us to make representations and if we were unhappy we should look for appropriate recourse in terms of the Act, which we are now doing.”
Inxeba producers Urucu Media confirmed it was consulting lawyers about taking the matter to court.
High irregular sex rating
City Press spoke to three current and former film classifiers at the FPB, who all believed the explicit sex rating was highly irregular and in contravention of the state censor’s own guidelines.
“What they’ve done is unlawful. We have guidelines provided by the FPB. When it comes to sex we have to look at explicitness. X is for extreme. It’s porn,” said one.
“There must be explicit sex, close-ups of genitals, the actual sex act. I watched Inxeba and there are two sex acts that are not at all explicit, they are implied.”
Another said: “The guidelines say if sex is shown but is not explicit it cannot be classified X. So I can only conclude this is censorship and it’s based on homophobia.”
The FPB was unwilling to respond to any claims of unlawful or unprocedural classification despite being asked repeatedly.
Asked for the reasons why Inxeba had been reclassified, Botolo was willing to say: “We cannot comment on the reason behind the decision as the tribunal is still finalising the written award. Reasons for the rating will be publicised as soon as they are received. It is common practice for the tribunal to provide the reason within seven working days.”
The day after the reclassification, an indaba about the film was hosted in Johannesburg by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL).
The Inxeba producers said they were systematically excluded from the indaba, where various cultural groups and bodies were given the chance to speak about how the film offended Xhosa people, Zulu people, Christians and women.
CRL chairperson Thoko Xaluva-Mkhwanazi denied Inxeba was excluded or that homophobia was fuelling the CRL discussions. “What we discussed about the movie was the portrayal of initiation school and the vulgarity contained in it. Homosexuality was not central to the complaints we received from the public about the film, not even the Xhosa king.”
Defending the film
Industry leaders rallied to the film’s defence this week, saying the “banning” of Inxeba affected the whole industry. They lashed out at the FPB for classifying it as pornography.
Celebrated actor John Kani said: “I am a Xhosa man so this is a hard thing and I have also not seen the film. But I cannot support censorship. It hurts artists.”
Film maker and comedian Kagiso Lediga said: “It’s appalling! This is a very backward way of dealing with the film. It’s bullsh*t! Inxeba is not porn.”
Thando Mgqolozana, novelist and co-writer of Inxeba, said: “This decision is anti-creation and draconian.”
Film maker Mayenzeke Baza said: “The ban on Inxeba was expected. South African culture is very patriarchal. Among Xhosa people, initiation is like life to them and it cannot be threatened by external forces. Inxeba is a piece of art, it’s a beautiful film. This decision goes against the FPB’s regulations.”
Television producer Mfundi Vundla said: “FPB’s reclassification of Inxeba is an outrageous act of totalitarian censorship reminiscent of our apartheid past.”
Sanja Bornman, a gender equality attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights said the body fully supported calls for transparency in relation to the FPB decision.
“The law entitles us to administrative justice and satisfactory reasons for such an extreme reclassification. We want to know why the FPB decided the film does not belong in the mainstream, at the cost of a potentially validating experience for marginalised members of our community.”
Bafana Khumalo, senior strategic adviser at Sonke Gender Justice accused the FPB of having buckled under the pressure from traditional leaders saying this “undermines the advances we have made as a constitutional democracy”.
Helen Kuun, managing director of Indigenous Film Distribution, which distributes Inxeba, said: “The FPB is legally obligated to make public its reasons for the new ruling seven days after the tribunal. We are taking the matter very seriously and will not let it rest.”
Nakhane speaks out again
This week City Press met Nakhane, one of the stars of Inxeba, who has won acting awards around the world for his role as Xolani.
Asked how he felt when he heard news that the film was classified X18, tears stung his eyes briefly.
“I’m actually quite choked up about this. When I heard the verdict I became emotional … I mean there’s only so much they can do to me, call me a stabane [gay], threaten my life, before their words don’t hurt any more. But this is on a different level, it’s bigger than me, it’s about artists and these bodies are supposed to be protecting and supporting artists…
“It’s like they’ve been doing this to me my whole life, the insults, the shaming, the stabane. And the one time I am free to be myself, to have some fun, to express my sexuality in a movie, they want to take that too.”
He was in the country briefly to sort out visa issues. He did not want people to know he was in Johannesburg because the death threats and hate speech against him continue unabated. But, while chatting to City Press, he received a phone call from his agent in LA that put the smile back on his face. He is being inundated with international deals and offers as he heads back to Europe to launch his next album globally.