Durban International Film Festival (DIFF)'s opening night film, Of Good Report was banned and in its stead, the audience watched as the film's director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka tore up his passport in silent protest. This third film from South African director Jahmil XT Qubeka tells the sombre tale of a small-town high-school teacher with a penchant for young girls. The result is an hypnotically engaging journey into the soul of a mentally troubled man. The trouble for Parker Sithole begins when he meets the undeniably gorgeous Nolitha Ngubane at a local tavern. Captivated by her beauty, an illicit affair ensues. However, there’s just one problem: Nolitha is one of Parker’s pupils and is just sixteen years old. Parker quickly spirals into a deep obsession that ultimately becomes violent and unquenchable.
Though I have not seen the movie, I do wonder how our home-grown film A Teacher measures up against this one.
In a move that was irregular, if not illegal, Film and Publication Board (FPB), whose primary task it is to monitor child porn online, unexpectedly requested screening copies of 7 films selected for the festival, including Winterbottom's film The Look of Love which was produced by the BBC. It is said to have aired on board international flights so it is doubtful that it contains dubious content. FPB generally gives DIFF an overall exemption from their oversight and in DIFF's 34 year history, no similar action has ever happened . The FPB was alerted to the possibility of The Look of Love being pornographic from its synopsis, and perhaps their suspicions were aroused by this section: “the true story of British porn baron Paul Raymond ... who is forced to deal with seeing his daughter fall apart under the influence of drugs”.
The 34th Durban International Film Festival is organized by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal) with support from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), National Film and Video Foundation, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development and Tourism, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture, and a range of other partners.
Professor Keyan Tomaselli of the Centre for Communication, Media and Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal explains how the "issue of the banning goes far deeper than simply trying to apportion blame on individuals working in a single state department.
This Act claims an administrative classification function but is, in fact censorship. The one has become blurred with the other in official discourse.”
On the FPB's website, its frequently asked questions section explains what constitutes child pornography in South Africa.
“In terms of South African law, 'child pornography' is any picture, regardless of how it was created, or any description, of a real or imaginary person who is under the age of 18 years, or is represented as being under the age of 18 years –
1. engaged or involved in any form of sexual activity;
2. participating in or assisting another person to participate in any form of sexual activity; or
3. any picture which shows, or any writing which describes, the body or any part of the body of a real or imaginary person under the age of 18 years in circumstances that amount to sexual exploitation or in a manner that makes it capable of being used for the purpose of sexual exploitation.”
Depictions within the film
The central questions, according to Tomaselli's statement, are: “Might the film, for example, have the [unintended] effect of promoting teacher-pupil sexual relations amongst some communities of viewers? Does it criticise such relations? What is the normative benchmark against which the narrative is set?” And then later, he asked, “Does the predator/teacher/rapist get criticised by the narrative?”
But the FPB is not concerned with the intention of the film, it is concerned with the depictions within it.
And that is the issue at hand, the Act (and not the FPB) does not allow us to talk about teenage sexuality because the Act speaks to a mindset that is incapable of recognising the middle ground between childhood and adulthood, especially relating to women. It is a mindset that expects women to miraculously, at the stroke of midnight on their 16th birthday, become fully formed sexual beings.
Having seen Of Good Report before DIFF at a private screening in Cape Town, I can say that it registers as a cautionary tale, a critique on a society that allows sexual predators to go unpunished. It is an incredibly masculine film, but it also gives the character Nolitha agency in her own sexual awakening and it is this element, and its portrayal by a 23-year-old actress, that discounts the possibility of it being “capable of being used for the purpose of sexual exploitation”; it is possible that it is this depiction more than anything else that makes the FPB uncomfortable, says Keyan Tomaselli.