The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has received a complaint about the cancelled screenings of the controversial award-winning film "Inxeba (The Wound)", it said on Wednesday.
Some groups responded to the film with protest marches and threats of violence against cinema staff and cinemagoers in Eastern Cape, leading to at least two cinemas cancelling screenings.
#Inxeba does not break any mountain secrets,the death of young boys making headlines broke the sacred seal of our initiation.The negative responses have only served to highlight how difficult it is going to be to re-engineer the Black man into a more rounded being. -Malusi Bengu— Inxeba (The Wound) (@TheWound_SAfilm) February 2, 2018
SAHRC spokesperson Gail Smith told EyeWitness News (EWN) that "while the Constitution allows for the right to protest, it should not be done to infringe on the freedom of expression of others", condemning the violent protests and threats.
She said the commission was monitoring reports of intimidation and death threats made against venues screening the film. Smith told EWN that the complaint made against groups that shut down the film will be assessed "based on human rights principals, the fact that our Constitution does protect the right to culture and the right to protest, etc."
Whether or not the protestors threatening violence had infringed on cinemagoers' rights was not something she was ready to determine, she added: "Where the line is – I can't make that call right now, because this matter is being accessed."
"The Commission thus calls on all who feel aggrieved by 'Inxeba (The Wound)' to exercise their right to protest within the confines of the law, and to engage more constructively about the concerns to ensure that while the protests demonstrate an objection, the act of protest remains lawful and in accordance with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."
Traditional leaders protested at major cinemas in East London and Port Elizabeth on Friday last week.
The film also trended on social media, with celebrities arguing about it on Twitter.
The release of 'Inxeba' totally ridicules and disrespects the wishes and traditions of the Xhosa culture. If we, as a country, cannot protect our own cultural beliefs and differences, no one else will do it for us.— Loyiso Bala (@loyisomusic) February 3, 2018
Ban #Inxeba? Are you mad, Loyiso? Just a few months ago you were preaching for intellectual property & freedom of expression to be protected by parliament. What kind of creator are you to believe that some art is more important than any other? You haven't even seen it. Uninformed— ANDILE NDLOVU (@Vida15) February 3, 2018
Nelson Mandela detailed what happens when you are being circumcised as a Xhosa man in book, Long Walk to Freedom. There was not and there still isn't a single protest action about that to this day. Inxeba must be left alone. Let those who want to watch, watch.— Khaya Dlanga (@khayadlanga) February 2, 2018
In the statement released by the SAHRC on Wednesday, Smith said the Constitution recognised the complexities relating to the right to freedom of expression.
"The Commission is mindful that the rights to culture, dignity, protest and freedom of expression are protected in our law. Our protections are similar in nature to protections for these rights globally," Smith said.
'Allowing artistic creativity to flourish'
"The protections are in place to allow artistic creativity to flourish and through such creativity to stimulate thought and opinion in democratic countries like South Africa. In South Africa the protections apply to art forms, including music and to the media. Where expression of this nature has to be limited, it must be shown to violate the rights to equality and dignity before it may be prohibited in our law."
The film claimed eight South African Film and Television Awards (Safta) nominations, including Best Actor, Best Directing and Best Film.
It has also won 19 awards at 44 festivals in more than 25 countries, including South Africa. It was shortlisted for this year's Academy Awards in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, although it never made the final nominations.