The controversial, award-winning gay Xhosa initiation film Inxeba (The Wound) today won its case against the Film and Publications Board appeal tribunal who had reclassified the film as pornographic with a X18SNLVP rating.
The North Gauteng High Court on Thursday morning ruled that the appeal tribunal’s process was legally flawed, should be reviewed and should be set aside.
The ruling “vindicates the position taken by the film’s team all along”, said one of the producers Cait Pansegrouw.
Indigenous Film managing director Helen Kuhn, the distributor of Inxeba, told City Press she was “delighted” with today’s outcome.
“The legal team including advocates Steven Budlender and Matsaleng Lekoane with Dario Milo and Lavanya Pillay from Webber Wentzel and legal consultant Sekoetlane Phamodi deserve the credit and were amazing,” she said.
“We are shocked,” said Kgosi Mokwena, president of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa), one of the parties who originally brought the appeal.
He told City Press: “As Contralesa we respect the rule of law and we accept what the court has decided. But we are not at all happy. We were expecting another version from a court that understands the issues. This ruling disregards African customary law. It seems the Roman Dutch legal system will continue to rule against our black culture. We will continue the fight to be recognised.”
The Film and Publications Board did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publishing.
The board originally classified the film 16SLN. It depicts a gay love triangle that plays out against the backdrop of an initiation school. While it contains some nudity and sex scenes, these are in no way explicit or graphic, causing an outcry from film lovers.
The House of Traditional Leaders and other parties, however, objected to the board ruling and an appeal was upheld, classifying Inxeba as pornographic.
That appeal was, however, flawed, as the film makers were not given a fair right to present their case.
In a meandering and long-winded judgment, Judge Joseph Raulinga made several statements about the film being offensive to Xhosa culture declaring that, in this matter, freedom of expression had infringed the cultural rights of Xhosa people.
However, in the end he ruled for the film’s producers and distributor.
When asked for comment, the Film and Publication Board's Manala Botolo said the Chairperson of the appeal tribunal was going to study the final judgment and would report accordingly.
Inxeba has won 19 awards at 44 film festivals around the world, among them eight gongs at the South African Film and Television Awards, which is organised by the state’s film funding body. It was shortlisted for this year’s Oscars but struggled to run at the local box office once the high court had given it temporary reprieve ahead of today’s ruling. It has been subject to repeated protests and its stars such as Nakhane have received hundreds of death threats from mostly Xhosa men.
This article was updated at 4pm on June 28 2018 to reflect the response of the Film and Publications Board.