Furore over judge’s criticism of ‘Spud’

2011-01-14 00:00

THE Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has described the criticism of Spud (the movie), by Constitutional Court judge Justice Edwin Cameron as a chance to debate the issue of homophobia in South Africa.

In a letter to Ross Garland, one of the film’s producers, Cameron expressed concern about the “casual denigration of gays — the amiable gay-hating incidents — that occasionally spike up in the movie”.

The judge says in the letter (published on the website constitutionallyspeaking.co.za) that while he was “thoroughly and happily swept along by the fine acting, the excellent cinematography and sensitive direction”, he was unhappy about the scenes in which The Guv (played by John Cleese) denounces Virginia Woolf and another novelist as lesbians, before saying that he has nothing against lesbians and in fact would like to give them all a thorough “rogering”.

“It is exactly this impulse that is imperilling the safety and the lives of lesbians in townships throughout the country, and appears to have resulted in several brutal murders,” the letter reads. “Middle class academics and discussants call it ‘corrective rape’. But to township lesbians it is a constant and benighted horror — the need butch men express to set their sexuality at rights — by giving them a thorough ‘rogering’. I found it distressful that a South African-made movie, with a South African producer, could reflect this speech. Its effect cannot be other than to condone that sort of violence besetting lesbians in our country.”

His concerns were echoed by Anthony Waldhausen, director of the Pietermaritzburg Gay & Lesbian Network, who said that research undertaken in the city has uncovered numerous incidents of hate crime experienced by members of the gay and lesbian community.

Kate Skinner, chairperson of the FXI board, meanwhile said that her organisation believed the issue needed to be raised because examples of homophobia could be seen throughout popular culture.

She added: “We don’t think he [the judge] is calling for censorship or wants an apology, but rather for South Africans to be more aware of homophobia and the issues faced by the gay and lesbian community.

“We talk about racism and sexism a lot, but homophobia is not generally raised in the mainstream media. If we sweep the issue under the carpet that’s when it gets dangerous.”

Garland, meanwhile, said he is alarmed that a Constitutional Court judge is showing “such disregard for free expression and artistic works”. He added: “In the five years since Spud was published, and with millions of people having read the book and seen the movie, Justice Cameron is the first person to ever publicly take the view that the film is homophobic … Fictional characters should not be censored because they offend the personal tastes of one individual, irrespective of the position that person holds in society.” Garland added that he is taking legal advice to see whether or not the publication of the judge’s letter was defamatory.

The author of Spud, John van de Ruit, declined to comment.

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