The South African film industry was heavily censored under apartheid, and almost 24 years after that era ended, regulating organisation the Film and Publications Board (FPB) is still being heavily criticised. After initially being rated 16, this month critically acclaimed film "Inxeba (The Wound)" was rated X18 by the FPB appeals tribunal – meaning it can only be seen, or sold, in places that sell pornography.
A professor at the University of Johannesburg's department of journalism, film and television, Jane Duncan, says the FPB is "reinstating morality as the grounds for publication control" and "reverting to being an extension of a nanny state".
"Periodically these controversies arise around the efficiency of the FPB. For me, there has been a tendency of the board to move from being a classification board to a censorship board – and I think that this latest decision is another indication of that," Duncan said.
She says she does not understand why films like "Inxeba (The Wound)" are deemed harmful.
"The grounds which have been cited for the reclassification of the film are, I think, inappropriate in a democracy. There seems to be a creeping homophobia, which the new classification dispensation, ushered in in 1996, was meant to get rid of.
"There is certainly a creeping social conservatism in how the board is doing its business. It keeps on rearing its head – this conservatism relating to matters of sexuality," she added.
"There is certainly a creeping social conservatism of how the board is doing its business. it keeps on rearing its head – this conservatism when it comes to matters relating to sexuality."
She believes the board has lost its independence, and that it has just become a tool of a nanny state.
"We also need to look at the institutional arrangement around the board, and the extent to which it enjoys independence," she said.
The banishing of "Inxeba (TheWound)" to adult stores has led to widespread outrage from groups like the Right 2 Know campaign, which has deemed the decision "censorship".
At the peak of oppressive apartheid South Africa, censorship was used to suppress the voices of anyone who created art that did not endorse the system.
In this period, the Publications Control Board was the censorship body that decided which movies and books would be made available to the public.
The Directorate of Publications introduced between 1974-1990 was an alternative allegedly with a more liberal stance. The directorate introduced transparent legal procedures for classifying and censoring material, as well as an appeals system. This resulted in the unbanning of previously banned work such as "Cry Freedom", a decision that was overridden by the Security Police, who cleared cinemas and allegedly bombed a few.
The directorate was replaced by the FPB in 1996, which ditched direct censorship for the classification system. This was viewed as being another positive step in the dismantling of political controls. However, under the FPB, the film "Of Good Report" was banned, becoming the first South African movie since the end of the apartheid to be removed from screens.
"Of Good Report" tells the story of a high school teacher who preys on a schoolgirl. The movie was alleged to contain child pornography, and was banned by the FPB – but later unbanned by the independent appeals tribunal, which ruled that the classification committee had made a mistake.
"Inxeba" Producers Fight Back
"Inxeba (The Wound)" producers are seeking an urgent interdict overturning the reclassification of the film. Their attorneys, Webber Wentzel, served a lawsuit on Saturday, February 24, "seeking an urgent interdict overturning the reclassification of the film", the producers said in a statement on Monday.
Producer Cait Pansegrouw says the tribunal was unable to prove that there was no scientific, educational and artistic value in the film, which means the rating was not fair.
"Since there was no explanation on how the tribunal reached this specific conclusion, it's not easy to respond to it," Pansegrouw said.
She continued: "What I can say is that it would be difficult to argue that our film lacks artistic value, given that it has won 20 awards of excellence internationally and within South Africa. Harvard University, Oxford University, various South African tertiary institutions and local movements such as Equal Education also have showed interest in including 'Inxeba' in their curriculums and programmes."