The South African Guild of Actors is alarmed at the chain of events that have culminated in the effective banning of the internationally acclaimed feature film, ‘Inxeba – The Wound’. This fictional story, set against the backdrop of traditional cultural practices, has been widely acknowledged as a legitimate artistic expression; the film has garnered no fewer than 20 international awards and was judged to have been among the ten best Foreign Language Films submitted to this year’s US Academy Awards. It is therefore rather odd that the Appeals Tribunal of the Film and Publication Board “… did not find any scientific, educational and artistic value throughout the film”.
In revising the FPB classification to a rating previously reserved for extreme pornography, the tribunal sets an ominous precedent that must not be left unchallenged. SAGA Chair, Jack Devnarain says, “It seems absurd that a film, feted around the world for its courage as an original work of fiction, is consigned to the smut shelves in the country of its origin simply because its narrative is set within the context of a sacred customary practice”. Devnarain adds, “It is of particular concern that the tribunal reached its hasty decision with an apparent disregard for due process.”
SAGA fully acknowledges and respects the sacredness and profound importance of umaluko (cultural initiation) to the Xhosa people. The Guild counts among its membership a number of amaXhosa, some of whom serve on the Executive Committee, and who offer guidance on sensitive cultural issues. The right to human dignity is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, so too are the rights to freedom of religion, belief, opinion and freedom of expression. Therefore, the individual’s right to language and culture cannot be realised at the expense of concomitant freedoms and rights.
Freedom of artistic creativity is specifically addressed in section 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, while article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants all the “right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
By definition, art embodies ideas that may present radical challenges to society; throughout history, artists have provoked self-reflection which tends to stimulate uncomfortable conversations. In other words, in order to enjoy the right to freedom of expression, we may have to tolerate the existence of some art that we find offensive, insulting or even outrageous. All these attempts at producing art enjoy constitutional protection. But then, so does the right to criticise, confront and debate the relative merits and shortcomings inherent within any artistic endeavour.
The film has rightfully elicited a wide range of responses that all serve to examine cultural attitudes in the light of the values that are enshrined in our country’s constitution. SAGA is of the firm belief that such discussion is healthy and to be promoted in the face of what retired Constitutional Court Judge Johann Kriegler describes as “any form of thought-control, however respectably dressed”.
In light of the above, the South African Guild of Actors, a member of SASFED, is in support of legal challenges to the ruling of the tribunal. In adopting this principled position SAGA appeals to Traditional Leaders – whose role is recognised in Chapter 12 of the Constitution – to embrace the appropriate mechanisms for recourse, such as the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRLC) and the Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The suppression of an artistic work and the silencing of divergent voices is likely to impose a barrier to mutual respect and understanding amongst cultural, religious and linguistic communities.
Furthermore, SAGA urges Traditional Leaders to condemn threats of violence targeting the actors, the crew, the director and producers of ‘Inxeba – The Wound’. Violent intimidation in defence of cultural customs and practices has no place in a constitutional democracy, serving only to betray the cultural virtues and sacred traditions they purport to defend.