‘Apartheid-style censorship’

2013-07-20 00:00

SOUTH African film-maker Jahmil Qubeka feels unwelcome in his country and that his thoughts are being policed.

Qubeka was speaking a day after the banning of his movie Of Good Report hours before it was due to open the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) on Thursday night.

“This was a sad day for our democracy that the kind of a film that touches on the issue of teachers having relationships with learners was pulled.

“I was shocked and I could not believe this. Now I am accused of child pornography as an artist, I am numb.”

Referring to the Film and Publications Board (FPB), Qubeka said: “They only watched 28 minutes of the 104 minute film and made a decision.”

The FPB’s decision to prevent the screening of the movie was roundly condemned yesterday.

UKZN academic Keyan Tomaselli likened the action to “apartheid-style censorship”.

The drama surrounding the pulling of the movie, as reported in The Witness yesterday, angered festival organisers and movie buffs, among others.

The much-fêted movie could not be shown as the FPB deemed that it contained child pornography.

Of Good Report deals with the subject of a male school teacher who becomes sexually involved with a 16-year-old girl who is a pupil in his class.

The film is the third by Qubeka, who deals specifically with topics that are relevant to South African audiences.

The issue of “sugar daddies” and the unhealthy sexual relationships between older men and young girls have been the subject of campaigns by the Department of Health.

The spread of HIV has been linked to this practice and girls living in dire poverty will trade sex for material gifts not knowing that they are risking their lives.

Qubeka has described the movie as raw in content, but not sexually explicit.

Director of the Centre for Communication, Media and Society, Tomaselli, recalls that he wrote in his book The Cinema of Apartheid, that the first Afrikaans movie, Debbie, was banned in 1965.

The film censors took exception to Debbie becoming pregnant out of wedlock.

The overall metaphor of the movie was that Debbie, an innocent farm girl, was a metaphor for all that was not right in Afrikanerdom.

The critical commentary was found to be offensive by the censors.

Tomaselli says that in Of Good Report the commentary is just as powerful a statement.

“What gets represented is discomforting for everyone — perhaps that’s the way it should be in a violent and disintegrating society like ours. Whether or not Of Good Report is a good or bad film no longer matters.

“What matters now is the direction that our hard won, and easily lost, democracy, is taking,” he said.

The Diff repeated that it would appeal the FPB’s decision to refuse to classify the film.

Yesterday, the FPB issued a statement, saying that Diff had lodged an appeal on Thursday.

The Appeals Tribunal would be chaired by Professor Karthy Govender, it said.

“The Appeals Tribunal will in due course liaise with the appellants on the matter.”

The FPB said over the years it had participated and supported the Diff.

It rejected suggestions that it had censored or banned content.

Such perceptions were “erroneous”, it said.

“On July 24, 2013, the FPB will host a workshop on classification guidelines at the Festival

“This is in line with our commitment to ensuring that local content is classified, promoted and supported,” the statement said.

The FPB has been the subject of controversy for its decision to classify the painting of The Spear 16N.

The decision was challenged and is awaiting appeal.

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