Top Billing, SABC’s television lifestyle show, has been accused of homophobia by snubbing an award-winning local lesbian-themed film because of its gay content.
Mambaonline was told that Tswelopele Productions, the producers of the glitzy show, had cancelled an interview with director Shamim Sarif at the last minute – this despite her film, The World Unseen, recently winning 11 SAFTA awards and earning considerable international acclaim.
According to an e-mail from Top Billing producer Jin Jeon to representatives of Sarif, the provisionally booked interview was cancelled by the show’s executive producer because “the controversial content/synopsis… is not in line with what Top Billing covers.”
The film is set in the 1950’s Apartheid South Africa Indian community and tells the story of the relationship between Miriam, a married woman and mother, and the free-spirited Amina.
Mambaonline contacted the Managing Director of Tswelopele Productions, Patience Stevens, and asked her if the company was homophobic in its decision to can the interview.
Stevens described the accusation as absurd, adding that “Tswelopele Productions probably employs more gay/lesbian people than any other production company in South Africa.”
She did however confirm that the interview had been cancelled because The World Unseen’s content was not seen as suitable for Top Billing’s target audience.
“…it is a family programme, with a family audience. We did consider doing an item on the Shamim Sarif movie, The World Unseen, precisely because of the movie’s success – but – it would be impossible to cover the movie without dealing with the subject matter in a fairly detailed way.”
She added that, “…it could sit better in a programme aimed at an adult only audience.”
Stevens’ argument for not covering the film and its director seems to be based on the notion that homosexual themes are inherently not ‘family-friendly’ and are best relegated to late-night, adult only time-slots. It’s an argument that could be seen as not only homophobic, but possibly in conflict with constitutional values.
Sarif, the film’s director, commented: “It would be wonderful to feel that my characters are judged according to their core human values and their actions, rather than innate characteristics such as colour or sexuality.
“The character of Amina in The World Unseen is a dynamic, charismatic, intelligent woman who happens to be gay. Her values are in no way in conflict with ‘family values’ in the sense that she has great integrity, honour and kindness.”
She told Mambaonline that she was disappointed that the interview was cancelled:
“While I am aware that any TV show is a business that has to cater to its audience, I would ask all companies with influence on the media in South Africa to keep in mind that they hold a powerful position and have the opportunity to encourage openness and dialogue by perhaps pushing the envelope a little now and then,” said Sarif.
In addition to its eleven SAFTAs (including best director for Sarif) The World Unseen has also been awarded “World Cinema Best Director” at the Phoenix International Film Festival, “Official Selection” at the Toronto International Film Festival, “Official Selection” at the 51st BFI London Film Festival, and “Audience Award, Best Feature” at the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. It also won a silver medal at the Verzaubert Film Festival.
The World Unseen is scheduled for release in South Africa this Friday 13 February 2009, and stars David Dennis, Colin Moss, Natalie Becker and Lisa Ray.