Nakhane Touré plays Xolani in Inxeba (The Wound), which won big at the recent Saftas despite controversy over its portrayal of the Xhosa rite of circumcision. Picture: supplied

Pretoria - A battle over the reclassification of the controversial film Inxeba (The Wound) is raging in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, with the film’s producers and distributors arguing it was unfairly awarded an X-rating.

“If this film is pornography, then the filmmakers are a disgrace to pornography,” Steven Budlender, acting for the applicants, on Wednesday argued. 

The court earlier this month by agreement between the parties temporarily lifted the X-rating given to Inxeba (The Wound) and it was allowed to be back on mainstream cinema screens, pending the outcome of these proceedings.

It was agreed that the film will, for now, carry an 18 age restriction and not be classified as pornography. But the applicants maintain that the film should carry a 16 age restriction, as it was initially classified by the Films and Publications Board.

The board’s appeal tribunal, however, reclassified the film to an X-rating,  following appeals lodged by Contralesa Gauteng and The Man and Boy Foundation. 

The applicants want the court to review and set aside the X-rated classification.

Their main argument is that the classification as hardcore pornography meant that the film could only be viewed at “adult premises” which are known as “sex shops” and no longer at mainstream cinemas.

Inxeba has won multiple awards at festivals across the world and it has recently swept up awards at the South African Film and Television Awards (Saftas) at Sun City.

The board’s appeal tribunal, in reclassifying the film to pornography status, found that it held no artistic merit and that it contained three graphical sexual scenes.

Judge Joseph Raulinga and counsel viewed the film on Monday, prior to Wednesday’s court proceedings. The judge questioned whether the law did not allow the court to order that the sex scenes be deleted.

But Advocate Steven Budlender, acting for the applicants, said this could never be allowed. He said in any event, the three sex scenes were vital to the “extraordinary ending” of the film. “Your Lordship know the extraordinary ending. It if were not for the three sex scenes, it would not make sense,” he said.

The judge commented that it was the extraordinary ending which bothered the cultural organisations opposing this application.

Inxeba explores themes of masculinity, tradition and homosexuality. It tells a story of a lonely factory worker who joins the men in his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. 

Budlender argued that the film did not deserve an X-rating and said the scenes were not graphical as one would expect in an X-rated film.

“Your Lordship did not even see any genitals (in viewing the film). When you think about pornography you think of close-ups of genitals and drawn out sex scenes,” Budlender said.

He also bitterly complained that the producers and distributors were not given the chance to put their case before the board’s appeal tribunal before it reclassified the film. He said the process was simply unlawful and unfair.

In referring to the cultural opposition, Judge Raulinga remarked that one should not simply think about the West, but also about African culture. He said the Constitution promoted the right to dignity and one cannot close your eyes to that. He said the South African culture had to be considered.

Advocate Viwe Notshe, acting for the appeal tribunal, said it found that Inxeba contained an anal sex scene. The judge remarked that there were no exposed genitals, but Notshe said there was exposed buttocks. 

Advocate Dali Mpofu, acting for the cultural organisations, said it was a misrepresentation that their objections to the film had anything to do with homophobia. “Let me tell you the matter has absolutely nothing to do with homophobia. Nothing. We are not talking about sex in a hotel. We are talking about it in the context of a mountain.”

He said it must be viewed in the context of initiation, where talk about sex was forbidden, let alone its practice. 

Mpofu said one must think back 500 to 1000 years when the cultural leaders who came up with these norms, never even gave thought to homosexuality. He said the circumstances surrounding initiation was sacrosanct and sex under these circumstances was taboo.  

He said if the men had sex after the initiates were released and the sex was for instance in a village, we would not have been here today.

Mpofu said his clients did not ask for the film’s reclassification to X-rated because of pornography, but because the conduct encouraged harmful behaviour. 

Arguments are still proceeding but it is expected that judgment will be reserved.

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