Of Good Report’s story is highly relevant to our society, says Eusebius McKaiser.
Thank goodness the Film and Publication Board can be silly. If the board wasn’t silly, and hadn’t banned Of Good Report on the spurious basis that it contains child pornography, then I would probably not be writing this column about what a fine film it actually is.
In fact, censorship is the best publicity the film-maker never paid for. The FPB has turned the director, Jahmil Qubeka, and his excellent cast into rock stars.
I suspect this irony, like the film’s genre, will be lost on them.
In a society with relatively low levels of artistic literacy, it’s rather unfortunate though that a body entrusted with distinguishing between material with aesthetic and erotic aims doesn’t know the difference between these.
Having now seen the film, it’s worth underscoring just how wrong the FPB was. There are important lessons that follow.
The story is a compelling drama about a rather ordinary man, Mr Sithole.
He has an excellent CV and is of good report.
He soon falls for a coquettish young woman, Nolitha, at a tavern in the kasi where he has just landed a teaching post.
Nolitha is charming and very beautiful. She plants herself, confidently and uninvited, opposite his lonesome, and clearly not-from-here, presence at a table at the tavern.
They eventually leave together, with another colleague of his, and after dropping off the colleague, who passes out drunk, they have sex. (Enters the FPB and bans the film before the review board unbanned it.)
Here is the first weirdness about the banning. The FPB only watched up till this point. It is not clear that the female character is underage.
In fact, one might criticise her as being too adult in many ways, if anything, and occasionally not believable as a girl-child in some later scenes, like when she talks to him about how nasty Othello was as a way of trying to morally skewer him.
What child would do that? In bed with a sugar daddy?
At any rate, the point is that at this stage of the narrative, the FPB had no artistic basis for deeming the character a child unless it watched more of the film.
But it didn’t do so, by its own admission. So there was no ground in law for stopping the tape at that point and deeming the material illegal.
Second, what is obvious within the opening minutes of the film already is that we are watching a complex social drama.
Only a desperate moralist or, actually, a sex-obsessed viewer would regard that first sex scene as pornographic when so much dramatic context and texture had already unfolded on the screen.
Only the morning after the sex scene, when Mr Sithole gets to class for the first time, does it turn out that the young woman is not yet a woman – she is a girl-child and one of his pupils.
But remember, by now the FPB are no longer watching, so how do they know?
Here is the most annoying part of the initial banning. The story has been mischaracterised as one that focuses on sugar daddies.
It is much more thematically layered than that, and should not be reduced to a simple sugar daddy tale – as critically important as it is to put the spotlight on that horrible social scourge too.
Actually, in this story, Mr Sithole becomes so obsessed with the girl that it leads to self-destructive behaviour and psychopathy.
Ultimately this is a film about how ordinary evil, self-implosion and psychopathy can be.
Along the way, the film subtly introduces other moral complexities, like a male teacher’s cowardice in not stopping Mr Sithole from preying on an innocent child. When Mr Sithole’s buddy does eventually confront him, he asks: “Are you trying to destroy yourself?”
A brilliant moment – I’d hoped this drunkard would be a Good Samaritan. Sadly, he only cared for Mr Sithole not destroying himself.
There was, tellingly, no mention of the girl in that rebuke. Men looking out for each other. A friend helping a friend – cool – but simultaneously he was betraying the depth of our misogyny. The well-being of the child was not central to his anger with Mr Sithole. How horribly familiar.
This film ultimately portrays reality darkly, honestly and critically. I say it is fit for matric film study because our children and teachers will see themselves in the film, and not just be engaging works from dead European writers about worlds unrecognisable to us.
Without good art, life would be impoverished. This film, though not perfect, is good art. Art is not just meant to be escapist but sometimes must also reflect reality in all its brutal glory.
Sadly, reality and good art are not for everyone.
** McKaiser is the host of Power Talk With Eusebius McKaiser on Power 98.7 and author of A Bantu in my Bathroom.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.