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More On 'Of Good Report' (DIFF 2013 Opening Film) Censorship Due To Alleged "Child Porn"

Shadow and Act By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act July 24, 2013 at 9:00AM

More On 'Of Good Report' (DIFF 2013 Opening Film) Censorship Due To Alleged "Child Porn"
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'Of Good Report'
'Of Good Report'
"This film has been refused classification by the film and publications board, in terms of the Film and Publications Act of 1996. Unfortunately we may not legally screen the film Of Good Report as doing so would constitute a criminal offence."

That was the statement on the screen in which Jahmil XT Qubeka's follow-up to A Small Town Called Descent titled Of Good Report was supposed to premiere in; the film was censored instead on its scheduled opening night at the 34th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF), in Durban, South Africa, on July 18.


To recap on Tambay's post from a few days ago, several DIFF attendees were outraged at the unanimous decision of 4 board members of the Film and Publications Act of 1996, a South African Parliament act - formed post-apartheid by the way - to assess media (including cinema) and regulate it according to what they deem appropriate to their respective audiences. For the sake of understanding these regulations, or try to, one could compare - albeit loosely - this act to the MPAA here in the USA.

The Act currently prohibits films or publications that advocate war, violence, and hatred especially if based on race, ethnicity, gender and religion.

However, Qubeka's film - described as "Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf's perspective," wasn't exactly banned for violating the aforementioned. The word from "opposers" of Of Good Report - which centers on a demented schoolteacher who has a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student and later attempts to get away with murder, is that it "promotes child abuse & pornography."

Defenders of the film, according to The Guardian, are accusing South Africa of apartheid-style censorship, especially since Of Good Report is the first mainstream film banned since the end of apartheid in 1994. Said defenders claim that the film raises social issue awareness when it comes to teachers who sexually prey on schoolgirls. To their chagrin, the decision to censor the film was a consensus of a four-member panel from the film and publications board, who made their decision after ONLY watching 28 minutes of the film.

Mothusi Magano in a still from 'Of Good Report'
Mothusi Magano in a still from 'Of Good Report'
And, apparently, the scene - which is the culprit of this brouhaha - depicts the teacher performing oral sex on the 16-year old girl, played by Petronella Tshuma, who is actually 23-years old in real life.

BUT, according to the film's producer Michael Auret - who was in "absolute shock" after the decision - in the allegedly "controversial" scene "when the characters go home, they're fully clothed. He puts his head under her skirt. It's obvious he's going down on her. In the festival there are much more explicit things being shown, and on TV as well. When people watch this film they're going to wonder what all the fuss is about."

What's also disheartening in this situation is that the so-called "Film and Publications Act of 1996" is allegedly made up of "Christian and nationalist in some form," which ruled the apartheid government, and, according to producer Auret - who is challenging the decision in the constitutional court - none of the people in the board are well versed in films or the media.

And now others involved in the making of the film are speaking out.  Director Qubeka appeared on the stage with his mouth taped as a sign of protest, and has said that he wants to protect the right to show his film, and he's willing to go to prison for it. Tshuma, the actress who plays the schoolgirl, said the decision "is disappointing and upsetting and a letdown. Pornography is a very strong word; it's not to be taken lightly. I'm getting calls from friends and family to justify myself." In regards to the sole 28 minutes for the censorship deliberation, which Tshuma called "stupid," she added "If you're going to switch off before the end, you're lazy. You have no idea what the film is talking about. A big hoo-ha has been made out of nothing."

Now the DIFF is appealing the decision with the board's appeals tribunal, so they definitely had nothing to with the decision. Furthermore, Kobus van Rooven, who drafted the current legislation, and who is the former chairman of the publications appeal board, criticized the "board's interpretation." If you have seen The Reader, the 2008 drama starring Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet, you might remember the sexually charged scenes between Winslet - in character as an older woman - having sexual relations with a 16-year old boy in the film, and both were buck-naked in those scenes.

Well, that film passed the South African film board censorship test!

According to van Rooven, the explanation for that decision, and the model in which films - including Of Good Report - should be evaluated against, is that "our attitude when the government asked me to write the act was the idea that banning should never take place unless you have child pornography, but we defined it by international definitions," he added "If it's artistic or academic or scientific, it shouldn't be banned." van Rooven says the board has "totally misunderstood the act," and he wishes they would follow the guidelines, that "within a dramatic context it's OK, it's not child pornography. I'm sure that's the position here. It seems they've made an error and I wish it wouldn't happen in modern times."

The film and publication board responded to those that questioned their integrity and judgment (according to the board its members are nominated by the public and evaluate close to 4,000 films a year). Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase, who is a member of the board, said that "in terms of the Film and Publications Act, the age of consent is 18." Mind you, that the age for sexual consent in South Africa is 16, and to top it off the actor is 23, but that doesn't matter.

Ndamase has also discredited the argument that the film draws attention on current social issues by stating the following:

"We don't commit murder to raise awareness of murder. We have not taken issue with the context of the film. We agree it raises awareness of a serious matter but in terms of the scene, unfortunately it does not pass the test in terms of the act or the guidelines.The producers are trying to create a political storm in teacup where none exists. It's a simple issue of child pornography, which is illegal in the republic."

There you have it. I'm certainly hoping that the ban is rescinded, and that the film travels, especially here to America. The censorship seems to reflect the taboos of some social issues in South Africa. It's a shame that this Film & Publications Act is closely affiliated with the government; its legacy seems to be having an adverse effect, to say the least, on South African artistic freedom of expression. 

Mothusi Magano on set of Jahmil X.T. Qubeka's Award-winning thriller "Of Good Report"
Mothusi Magano on set of Jahmil X.T. Qubeka's Award-winning thriller "Of Good Report"



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