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April 02, 2018

Award-Winning Gay Love Story Fights ‘Porn’ Classification

CYBERSPACE—An award-winning South African film that centers around a gay love story is being forced to continue its battle to stay on movie theater screens, after that country’s Film and Publication Board ruled that the film should be classified as pornography. Producers of the movie titled Inxeba: The Wound were back in court last week attempting to get age restrictions lifted from their film, which was South Africa’s entry in the United States Academy Awards’ “Best Foreign Film” category for 2017. The producers are also fighting against an order to remove three sex scenes from the film, saying that without those scenes, the film’s ending would no longer make sense in the context of the film’s plot. The film was summarily slapped with an “X” rating by South Africa’s FPB, which in that country means that “mainstream” commercial cinemas were prohibited from exhibiting Inxeba, allowing the film to be shown only in establishments classified by the government as “sex shops.” The film’s narrative takes place amid the controversial ritual known as Ulwaluko, a mystical and grueling manhood initiation process practiced by South Africa’s Xhosa people, the second-largest cultural group in the country, after the Zulu-speaking people. The Xhosa language is one of 11 officially recognized by the South African government and is believed to be spoken by about 7 million people there. The Ulwaluko ritual consists of a physical ordeal in which an initiate is sent to live in seclusion in the mountains or forests of South Africa’s eastern regions. A circumcision ritual, conducted by a surgeon but using an assegai—a traditional spear—also forms an essential part of the ritual. Almost 1,100 men have reportedly died as a result of the ritual since 1995. But traditional Xhosa leaders were reportedly infuriated by the depiction of a gay romance amid the traditional ritual—a romance which included three sex scenes in the film. Though the FPB had initially ruled that the film—which has won 20 awards at festivals worldwide as well as the Golden Horn award, the equivalent of “Best Picture,” at the South African Film and Television Awards in March—contained “no artistic merit.” Earlier in March, a court agreed to remove the “porn” classification and X-rating from the film, instead hitting it with an age restriction of 18, meaning the film may be screened in regular commercial cinemas, but its audience would be limited. The producers want the age restriction dropped to 16. A lawyer for a group of Xhosa cultural organizations that opposes the film argued in court that the groups’ objections are not based on the depiction of homosexuality in the film, but that any sort of sexual activity is considered taboo during the Ulwaluko ritual, and should not be depicted. A judge is expected to issue a ruling of the fate of Inxeba, possibly later this week.

 
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