A scene from the controversial 'Inxeba (The Wound)'. Picture: Supplied
During my short-term British Council scholarship in the UK, I had an opportunity to watch a movie, which incidentally was banned by the National Party government. The movie was titled The Last Temptation of Christ. I was later informed by my friends that the movie was banned because it misrepresented the Christian faith and the majority of Christians were aggrieved by its screening.

The government took the role of “big father” and banned the movie in response to protestations by a section of the Christian community.

I smuggled a copy of the movie to show to my friends and family.

During the height of repression by the National Party government, it was common for comrades to smuggle “Struggle literature” in and out of the country.

My friends were of the opinion that banning literature just because some people were offended ran contrary to one of the core principles of a democratic society - freedom of expression.

Shortly after 1994, a new democratic government lifted the ban on the screening and circulation of The Last Temptation of Christ and there was no public outrage from the Christian community. In no time, the movie and its controversies were removed from the public agenda.

The rationale for sharing this experience is to share my disillusion with the outrage of some sections on the screening of the movie Inceba. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sections of the public expressing their disapproval on the screening of a movie, but there is everything wrong when a section of the community (irrespective of the position of authority that such individuals hold) goes out of their way to aggressively sabotage the screening of a movie.

What happened in the Eastern Cape where sheer aggression was used to prevent cinemas from showing the movie was wrong and must not be allowed to happen in any corner of our democratic country. I thought the government by way of law enforcement would step in to remove the angry protesters.

Our constitution makes us a circular state where the state is supposed to be neutral on matters of culture and religion, and in which all forms of cultural and religious expression are be treated equally. Such a constitutional obligation makes a compelling case for the state to protect the screening of Inceba.

The state must not stand by and allow any person to throttle freedom of expression which we had to fight for against the apartheid system.

Our constitution makes provision for peaceful protest, and there is nothing wrong with anyone protesting at cinemas where Inceba is being screened, but things become wrong when some people decide what movie we should watch. There are mechanisms in the movie industry such as age restrictions which protect children from being exposed to material which my cause harm to them. In the case of Inceba, I am made to understand that the age restriction is 18, which is standard for movies which have explicit sexual scenes, use of strong language and violence.

This age restriction shields the young and fragile from possible bad influence. But for goodness' sake, adults in South Africa cannot be restricted like kids in a country which purports to be a free democracy. The courts remain the last resort for those who feel aggrieved by Inceba. Such people may convince the court that Inceba has so distorted the Xhosa culture to an extent that after viewing it, the audience will automatically change their views about the initiation school practices of the Xhosa.

I have watched so many controversial movies, but none changed how I look at the world and other cultures.

Movies as works of art are by nature a reflection of the realities of our society. In portraying such realities, movie makers may make distortions which may compromise our understanding of reality. This is because movie makers, like other artists have “artistic licence” which allows artists to express views contrary to the norm.

That is precisely the reason why people like movies because they show a different side of our reality which may not necessarily be true. The makers and actors in Inceba have brilliantly exercised their artistic licence, no wonder that the movie has received numerous international awards.

Instead of blindly condemning the artistic work of our movie makers and actors, we need to appreciate the creativity and raw talent of our young artists. But we are free to make constructive criticism to enable them to make improvements.

The continued screening and distribution of Inceba is a litmus test of how seriously we (including the state) are committed to protecting the freedom of expression which is guaranteed in our constitution.

* Dr Tutu Faleni (PhD) is a proud Xhosa man and DA MPL in the North West.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.