I hadn’t expected to begin my response to a new local film with more consternation against our state bodies and their interference in South African cinema, but the recent opprobrium of the Film and Publication Board’s ferociously unjust censorship of Inxeba has angered me in excess of my expectations. I wasn’t very much bothered by those protesting the film’s screenings in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, though I was disappointed to find that theatre managers were caving in to intimidation — but the actions of the national classification and censorship authority were so cowardly, so unjust, and bore such harsh implications for the artists involved in the making of Inxeba as well as other South African artists that I cannot go without declaiming their repugnance here.
The Man and Boy Foundation (MBF) and the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (CONTRALESA) made an appeal to the Film and Publication Board (FPB) to change its rating of Inxeba with an age restriction of 16 to one of X18 — effectively a classification of the film as pornography. The FPB acquiesced and Inxeba, which was playing at multiplex and independent screening venues across the country, as well as reportedly having been bought by Multichoice to show on BoxOffice, Showmax, and M-Net, is now only allowed to be distributed by licenced pornography merchants and screened at designated “adult” venues. The only explanation that has been offered by the FPB so far comes along with its sudden announcement on its Twitter account, and it’s as repulsively evasive as the method of communication was brusque:
“[To regulate the … distribution of films] is done to provide consumer advice to enable adults to make informed reading, gaming, and viewing choices for themselves and children in their care; to protect children from exposure to disturbing or harmful material and from premature exposure to adult experiences; and to make the use of children in, and the exposure of children to pornography, punishable. Paramount to the mandate of the FPB is the protection of children.”
“The protection of children as enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights includes physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or moral harm to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse, or degradation.”
“It further ensures that children’s best interest is of paramount importance in every matter concerning a child.”
The FPB has not shared the reasons for its decision, but the MBF has shared a public statement, which suggests those reasons, including their view that
“this movie has high level [sic] of vulgar [sic] and insulting women and girl child [sic] amongst other things. Man and Boy Foundation and CONTRALESA will now approach the Gender Commission to lay a charge against the producers and directors [sic] of the Inxeba [sic] against insulting women in the movie. … Once more we would like to state our position that we are not against Gays [sic]. However, we are against vulgar [sic], blasphemy and misrepresentation, distortion and disrespect of traditional initiation in this movie [sic]. We reiterate our call that Films and Publications Board [sic] and National Films and Video Foundation [sic] (NFVF) to issue a public apology [sic] for funding and allowing such a horrible, and insensitive movie to be played.”
My anger overtakes my pity for those who cannot discern between a filmmaker’s stated prejudicial or derogatory views and those of the characters he depicts, since, in fact, there are no women in Inxeba to treat with disrespect, and when the script has characters discuss their own sexual prowess or the sexual desirability of women it’s in no way to foster any sympathetic feelings among audience members or suggest any among the filmmakers. If the boys in the movie talk like that in the movie, it is because boys in real life talk like that in real life, and the Man and Boy Foundation is not merely remiss but in fact in a repellently immoral position for censuring the depiction of bad behaviour that it has consistently neglected to publicly censure in real life throughout its existence. The answer is not to ban the movie from theatres but to educate boys across the country, some of whom may indeed learn something from the movie itself.
The FPB’s excuses about the protection of children is the abhorrent pretense of noble intentions, and it’s capitulatory nonsense. There is nothing untoward that the young actors in the film were made to do (at least nothing that ends up on the screen, since I know nothing of what else happened in the filming), and not even anything of the sort is explicitly shown to take place with a young character. Nor were children ever in danger of being in any way harmed by the mature content of the film, since it already had an age restriction of 16, and nobody any younger than 16 years would have been allowed into a theatre to see it. None of the tweets spent on explaining the relevant Act of 1996 are of any use at all, and serve only as a screen to whatever led to the Appeals Tribunal’s decision, which came from the arguments given by MBF and CONTRALESA. In my judgement, there is nothing about the film Inxeba that it would be harmful for a teenager who has decided to see it to be shown.
If the FPB really couldn’t discern between actual disrespect of women and the representation of disrespect against women (and one that takes a critical view of such disrespect, for that matter), they would be banning most of the films that come over to our theatres from Hollywood and elsewhere. And if they really cared about the healthy upbringing of children and teenagers, they would say something about distorted and narrow media representations of real-life people, events, ideas, and actions, or those that they are meant to approximate; more films that arrive in South Africa would be banned by them. But of course these aren’t the real problems, because none of those movies offend the delicate sensibilities of reactionary bigots who are clearly in the position to bully and intimidate state bodies into the erasure of representation of queer identity and the repression of South African artistic expression. In fact, the bile disguised as puritanism disguised as helpful concern is exactly what directly led to the widespread censorship of otherwise decent and harmless work throughout the apartheid era by the nationalist government.
I’ve written before about the unbecoming relationship between the state and filmmakers, and how it has negatively impacted the results of the filmmakers’ labours. With Inxeba, I felt that filmmakers had somehow achieved a greater freedom and were able to make something more like the film they had wanted to make. Yet, when the state has not interfered with the making of a film, we then find that it is also far too involved in the distribution, and I am moved to call out these organs of the government Departments of Arts and Culture and Communications, respectively, and aver that whether or not a teenager sees the depiction of homosexual intimacy is none of the state’s business; whether or not a film is duly respectful of the feelings and customs of reactionaries and bigots is none of the state’s business; and whether or not a legally compliant film is shown in local theatres and sold in local DVD stores is certainly none of the state’s business.
My hope is that this disgraceful action is soon overturned, and that more people get better opportunities to see Inxeba over time, firstly because I believe it’s important to support the local film industry, and secondly because I find it’s a particularly good South African film, made expressively and passionately enough to be worthwhile for South African audiences. I offer such support as I can give to the filmmakers, who are fighting to undo the FPB’s damage, and firmly state my opposition to this gross unfairness and intolerable, nauseating behaviour of our supposed government custodians.