Director John Trengrove’s “controversial” 2017 drama left critics swallowing their words when it bagged 19 international awards and 12 nominations at the 2018 SAFTA 2018 awards.
The ruling of the film as X18SNLVP by the Film and Publication Board’s (FPB) Appeal Tribunal in 2017 has recently been overturned by Judge Joseph Raulinga of the Pretoria High Court‚ on the grounds that it was procedurally unfair and unlawful.
The National Arts Festival with its history of screening alternative and mainstream media did not include Inxeba on the list of films meant for screening. Member of the board of directors for the National Arts Festival, Albie Sachs said the decision to not screen the movie was based on threats of burning cinemas showing the movie.
The discussion led by panelists Albie Sachs, Professor Vulindlela Nyoni and Nkosohlanga Matshoba could be summarised into the complex question of why can we ask certain questions and avoid others?
“We grew up in a time where we were censored. We wanted freedom of speech!”
Sachs, who is a veteran activist and former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, said that banning any movies was not something they were intending to do in this festival. Sachs concluded saying that the decision to not include Inxeba was not an easy one, as he realises that the film would have been affirming and meaningful for many young gay African men in Grahamstown. However, Sachs says there was a need to consider the safety of those coming to the festival, as well as the dignity of those whose culture and tradition is displayed.
Cultural activist, Nkosohlanga Matshoba added that the rite of passage of ulwaluko (initiation) was a sacred tradition in the Xhosa culture. Matshoba argued that scenes of sexual relations in the film violated the dignity of the Xhosa people.
This raised the question: who dictates representation in the arts? Fact or fiction, representation is a two-way street. It is both subjective and objective. One of the audience members questioned whether the director being a white man meant anything in the representation in the film.
The film, which portrays a homosexual relationship between two men at initiation school, interrogates the intersectionality between homosexuality, masculinity and tradition. Initiation has been previously spoken of, previously detailed and widely shared.
Similar to Inxeba, mini-series Umthunzi Wentaba was a story on umkhwetha (an initiate) who rebelled against the custom of ulwaluko from fear of dying in the mountain. This mini-series was suspended from airplay after two episodes were aired on SABC 1.
While considering traditional sacredness of rituals, the censorship on other concerns surrounding this ritual is quite noticeable. And problematic. While misrepresentation may be questioned, concerns of fear and personal experiences cannot afford to be delegitimised.
Professor Nyoni raised a poignant sentiment that South Africa seems to be fostering a wound. From apartheid down to tradition. One can gather that there are concerns we have not yet addressed because there are questions which we have not yet asked. And probably will never ask. The task of storytelling is questioning and challenging as much as it is preserving and protecting.
Nyoni explains that, as a foreign national, the film to him appears to not only depict a particular experience in the ritual setting rather but also becomes an extension of other dilemmas in South Africa society. He raised an important question which speaks to both censorship and misrepresentation.
In the broader spectrum of things, other questions were raised. Did the director being a white man mean something? Who is responsible in ensuring that dignity is not violated in the arts? Who decides what is questioned?
In the end, the discussion revealed that there is much transformation needed in the Arts. So, in the quest of preserving cultural dignity and tradition, who gets to decide what stays and what goes?
By Zondelela Njaba