Judge: Inxeba is not porn, but violates rights of Xhosa people

The Pretoria High Court has handed down its final ruling on attempts to classify controversial South African film Inxeba as X-rated, and it’s a decidedly mixed outcome.

Importantly, Judge Joseph Raulinga found that the Film and Publications Board Appeals Tribunal’s decision to rate the film as X18, effectively barring the gay love story from cinemas, was flawed, unlawful and should be set aside.

He in particular slammed the tribunal for not giving the film’s producers an opportunity to argue their case when it made its classification. Raulinga noted that the filmmakers “were given no proper opportunity to participate in the decision and no proper opportunity to influence the outcome of the decision.”

However, according to Times Live, the judge in his ruling nevertheless supported the tribunal’s argument that the film is harmful to young people and offensive and damaging to Xhosa people. He insisted that the right to free speech did not not give the filmmakers an excuse to override the right to cultural dignity of Xhosa people.

Raulinga said: “If cultural beliefs and practices are to be considered‚ the film is harmful and disturbing and exposes 16-year-olds to the sexual conduct depicted in the film.”

He argued that the film’s language was degrading to Xhosa women, and exposed them to violence such as rape. “It contains harmful scenes which could cause tensions within the Xhosa community and even within the broader African community. By implication it has an effect on the rights of the Xhosa traditional group‚” he said.

Inxeba was also slammed for depicting “sacred” Xhosa initiation rituals. Raulinga argued that this “is central to the Xhosa people‚ to their very existence and identity.” The fact that sexual scenes, regardless if they were heterosexual or homosexual, were shown in the film within this context was additionally problematic, he said.

“Sexual intercourse is a taboo subject in the context of initiation‚ which should not even be spoken about‚ let alone practiced. It contradicts the idea of ritual purity‚ which is the cornerstone of circumcision.”

Inxeba producer Cait Pansegrouw welcomed the court’s decision to reverse the X18 rating. “We are delighted that the Court upheld the contentions that the Appeal Tribunal’s decision was unlawful and invalid and that this vindicates the position taken by the film team all along,” she told Mambaonline in a short statement. She has not, as yet, addressed the judge’s other views.

In February, the Film & Publication Board Appeals Tribunal changed the film’s original rating of 16LS to X18 after receiving complaints from cultural groups, including the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa). There were protests at cinema screenings of the film, many of which had to be canceled, and the cast and crew received death threats.

The producers sued to overturn the ban and the tribunal’s decision was partially reversed by Judge Raulinga in March, allowing Inxeba to return to cinemas under an 18SNL rating (without the X). Wednesday’s final ruling confirmed and upheld his decision and his revised rating.

Kgosi Mokwena, President of Contralesa, told City Press that he was “shocked” by the court’s ruling. “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,” he said.

Inxeba is the story of Xolani, a lonely gay closeted Xhosa factory worker who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. In addition to winning around 19 international film awards, in March, the film scooped six South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAS), including Best Feature Film.

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