The day before the world came to a stand-still, due to reasons I’m sure you’re all very familiar with by now The First Wednesday Film Club (FWFC), an independent film screening club in Johannesburg South African hosted it’s last movie screening of the year – the critically acclaimed and most controversial South African Film –OF GOOD REPORT -written and directed by Jahmil Qubeka. The event was well attended by many of Johannesburg’s top film producers, directors, actors, film lovers and fans alike. The room was packed to the brim with an eager pop-corn munching audience. Why? The film was unceremoniously banned by the South African film board minutes before it was meant to open the Durban International film festival in June this year, for underage pornographic content. Festival goers were met with a muted Qubeka and a message saying the film could not be screened as that would constitute a criminal offense. Social media was abuzz with twitters of heightened fears of increased suppression of the right to freedom of expression by the state. The film however was later approved for screening, with a 16 plus age restriction. This led to the eventual screening of the film at FWFC.
True to form the Master of Ceremonies (MC) for the evenings’ screening comedian David Kibuka, of Etv’s Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola (LNN) comedy show did not mince his words. “We are all here to watch child pornography, that’s what we all are here to see “he said to much self-conscious laughter from the audience. I had been looking forward to seeing the film myself; generally eager to find out if the film was truly worth of all the fuss. As South Africans we can be quite hysterical about nothing sometimes. Of Good report is a story about a serial killer teacher who forms an illicit relationship with a 15-year-old student. The teacher soon becomes obsessed with the girl so much so that he ends up bludgeoning her to a pulp with a cricket bat and butchering her body to get rid of her. The scenes are all very graphic, from the sex scenes which the film was originally banned for and the butchering scenes. Throughout the process the teacher, is haunted by the image of his chain-smoking mother whom he also smothered to death. The teacher, though of good report, had been in the army and had just returned from a peace keeping mission from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and on his return had to serve as a nurse to his ailing mother, which required him to wake up at odd hours of the night to clean her up after each time she went to the toilet to relieve herself. A tortured, soul, he does not utter a single word through-out the film, something which the film’s director Qubeka says was intended to silence men, who often are given a voice in society despite their many transgressions. The film itself is very long and slow and full of graphic violence, employing film styles, such Film Noir including echoes of the Coen brothers. Qubeka himself admits that there is nothing “original” in his choice of film styles, calling himself a kind of Film “DJ” who mixed all imaginable Film genres into one movie. Many in the audience were awed by the director’s technical abilities in making film for film sake, while others bemoaned the lack of a larger storyline. But since I’m not a film buff I will not focus on the style of the film but just tell you what I got from it.
INTERPRETING SOUTH AFRICA
I am all about story-lines when it comes to movies and films – and less about how the film was made though the two often go hand in hand. I enjoyed Qubeka’s treatment of the heavy subject of Child pornography, the relationship between teacher and student, because though illicit in nature he did not attach any blame to any single character, simply telling the story as it is, leaving it up to the audience to make their own judgments about who they would choose to empathize with. All the characters are made vulnerable by their personal histories which when looked at holistically are equally traumatic, and each character acts out in different ways – all which are equally self-destructive. However, the violent scenes where hard for me to take, and I would have put an 18 age restriction on the movie instead of 16 because of the high level of violent content. Why? Because I think we have our wires crossed a little bit, the Film board was not concerned about the violent content in this movie, only the sex scenes which are mostly implied, while the violence is not. We make a lot of fuss about sex and less about violence: its okay to smother your mother to death with a pillow because you can’t stand their illness or taking care of them, it’s okay to bludgeon someone to death because they stopped loving you the way you want, but it’s not okay to have sex. The argument is often violence is real, its reality why not show it? Well so is sex? Why do we have double standards? However “real” it may be, killing is not a “natural” human function, hurting someone because of whatever reason is not natural. Whether we perceive it as just a movie and therefore not “real” there’s no difference in the brain or in how our emotions react to what we see. It’s an experience, if there was a difference we wouldn’t cry at the movies when we see a touching or a sad scene because we would know it’s not real. But we do and that’s because our emotions can’t tell the difference. The image becomes a memory and becomes a lived experience. We suffer secondary, third levels of trauma as a result. We must take responsibility for what we do whether it’s in the name of “art” or “freedom” of expression. Already as a country we suffer untold amounts of trauma from lived “real” experiences of violent crime, all the time, do we need see and experience more at the movies too? I think the litmus test for every artist should be, would I be happy showing my child this body of work to my child? If not then however interesting it is, it is not worth doing, if it’s not good enough for your child to see, it’s not good enough to be shown anywhere for anyone. I think as artists we tend to take the easy route, pick on low hanging fruit, instead of really interrogating how we want to express our ideas. violence is easy. The more violence we see, the more immune we become to it, the more we find it easier to accept violent behavior in any shape or form as an acceptable part of human nature – which it isn’t. So we learn that the only way to deal with trauma, pain or hurt is through violence – death. Want to change how society behaves? Change the movies, change popular culture. Television and social media have an untold influence on human behavior whether you choose to acknowledge this fact or not. If movies are about creating new ways of seeing the world, why don’t we focus on creating a world we would love to live in? Why perpetuate the same ugly, violence and hate crimes, and then hope to have a different result in real life? We are all influenced by the images we see, whether we create them through “art” or we see them in real life no matter how “literate” we are. We are traumatized by the things we do and experience, children, even adults emulate what they see on television, good or bad in real life too. Why don’t we practice loving each other? Talking to each other as a way of resolving problems instead of re-enforcing violent behavior and hate? We might not be able to do away with violence in real life, but we can limit it on-screen, that we can surely control. So if a movie can be banned for implied sex scenes, which we all know happen in real life all the time but we still put age restrictions on such movies, why do we have different standards when it comes to violence?
I for one would have banned the movie all together.
- Jahmil XT Qubeka’s ‘Of Good Report’ opens Film Africa 2013 (africainwords.com)
- Extraordinary Careers: A Maverick Filmmaker (mediadiversified.org)
- Journeys into Genre: Talking Horror and Sci-fi with Jahmil XT Qubeka (africainwords.com)
- Ghana’s Lydia Forson’s Speech At Frican International Film Festival (spyghana.com)
- Mandela’s Long Walk to Hollywood (online.wsj.com)