PEN Afrikaans strongly objects to the X-rating given to Inxeba | The Wound

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PEN Afrikaans strongly objects to the X-rating given to Inxeba | The Wound, a film by John Trengove. The film has won prizes at fourteen international film festivals and was South Africa’s official entry to the 2018 Academy Awards for best foreign language film; yet in South Africa we are not allowed to see it in theatres. This is outrageous.

We understand that certain aspects of Xhosa initiation rituals are seen as sacred, and we deeply respect cultural belief systems, yet we need to point out that there are no legal or moral prohibitions on any individual to engage with these sacred cultural belief systems in an artistic or dramatic environment. Former president Nelson Mandela wrote in lyrical and explicit detail about his own initiation. His autobiography justifiably carries no age restriction.

Under the apartheid regime South Africa saw many works banned because of their sensitive cultural nature, but those bans have been lifted since democracy dawned on our country. By X-rating this film, it has essentially been banned and South Africans have been deprived of the opportunity to choose whether they want to see it in a theatre or not, something which might have been commonplace under apartheid, but certainly has no place in our democracy. Will the books and films banned under apartheid now all be reclassified yet again?

Should the X-rating have anything to do with the homosexual love depicted in the story, it would simply be unconstitutional and a grave insult to the LBGTQI community and all those opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. With all due respect, if Inxeba | The Wound is X-rated then Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s award-winning film, should also have been X-rated.

We would like to point to a precedent when, on appeal, the Film and Publications Board correctly reduced the age restriction of a film containing a sensitive theme. In October 2015 the film Dis ek, Anna was released. The film, directed by Sara Blecher, was an adaptation of Anchien Troskie’s semi-autobiographical novel by the same name. Child abuse is the central theme. The novel, its follow-up and the film all aimed to educate children and adults to speak out.

At the time of its release, the Film and Publications Board rated Dis ek, Anna X18, since it contained acts of a sexual nature involving minors.

The producers appealed this rating since the film’s sensitive depiction of sex was not in any way different from other films dealing with a similar theme that had carried lower ratings, and because Dis ek, Anna was aimed at educating the very age group that had been banned from seeing it under such a rating.

After hearing the appeal from the producers of Dis ek, Anna, the film was correctly reclassified to carry an age restriction of 16.

In this regard it is important to note that mere subject matter does not necessitate an X18 rating. The wording of the Film and Publications Act calls for evaluation within context with due cognisance of, amongst other things, artistic merit.

Section 18(3)(c) of the Act allows for the Film and Publications Board to “classify the film or game as ‘X18’ if it contains explicit sexual conduct, unless, judged within context, the film or game is, except with respect to child pornography, a bona fide documentary or is of scientific, dramatic or artistic merit, in which event the film or game shall be classified with reference to the relevant guidelines relating to the protection of children from exposure to disturbing, harmful or age-inappropriate materials”.

Judging by its reception at international film festivals, the artistic merit of Inxeba | The Wound is beyond doubt. It is paradoxical that South Africans should be deprived of the opportunity to see a world-class, home-grown film that is entrenched in South African culture.

PEN Afrikaans condemns unjustified censorship and supports artists who boldly claim their right to engage with the full spectrum of adult sexual experience and language used in South African society, also in cases where these may come across as explicit, strong, or offensive. With maturity we should abandon the notion that films from abroad are the only ones that may freely explore and represent sensitive issues and that films in our local languages should remain prudently in the fold of the colonised mindset.

We therefore call on the Film and Publications Appeal Board to withdraw the X18 rating on Inxeba | The Wound and to reinstate the previous age restriction of 16 with immediate effect so that the film can be freely shown around the country wherever people want to see it.

When passing the new Films and Publications Act 1996, Parliament accepted the open-minded approach of the Kobus Van Rooyen Commission (1994) which drafted the Act as mandated by Minister Buthelezi – who promised that there would be no future censorship for adults. The Appeal Board would be justified in withdrawing its decision. Justice Yacoob, in one of his many open-minded judgments as Justice of the Constitutional Court, held that it is permissible for a statutory body to withdraw its decision when it is warranted. To approach the Courts is a costly procedure. We call on the Appeal Board to re-think its decision and re-instate the age restriction of 16.

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