A victory for freedom of expression - Webber Wentzel succeeds in getting Inxeba: The Wound back in cinemas

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On 6 March 2018, the North Gauteng High Court handed down its ruling in the urgent review application by the producers and distributors of the movie Inxeba: The Wound against the Film and Publication Appeal Tribunal's (the Tribunal) decision to award the film a rating of X18. The filmmakers were represented by Webber Wentzel.

The film, directed by John Trengove, explores the themes of masculinity, tradition and homosexuality. The filmmakers describe the film as follows: Xolani, a factory worker, joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. One of the initiates discovers Xolani's biggest secret, a closeted love affair, which causes Xolani's entire existence to unravel. The film was born out of a desire to push back against clichéd stereotypes of black masculinity perpetuated inside and outside of African cinema.

The film was South Africa’s official submission for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018 and has won 20 awards at 44 film festivals in more than 25 countries worldwide.

After receiving complaints regarding the film, the Tribunal, in a patent violation of the Film and Publication Act 65 of 1996 (the Act), held a hearing regarding the classification of the film at which the filmmakers were not given an opportunity to make representations. On 13 February 2018, the Tribunal overturned the film's original classification of 16 LSN and instead re-classified it as X18 SLNVP.

In terms of the Act, a rating of X18 is reserved for films which contain "explicit sexual conduct", unless the film is a one of dramatic or artistic merit. A film rated X18 may only be distributed or exhibited in adult entertainment stores. The rating effectively banned the film from being screened in mainstream cinemas.​

In its reasons for its ruling, received by the filmmakers on 23 February 2018, the Tribunal provided no justification for its conclusion that the film lacked artistic merit. It also did not consider the fact that the film has been acclaimed as a film of high dramatic and artistic merit via the local and international awards and reviews it has received. From its reasons for its decision, it appears that it is the fact that the Tribunal finds certain aspects of the film distasteful or discomforting that led to its decision.

On 24 February 2018, one day after receiving the Tribunal's reasons for its classification, the filmmakers instituted an urgent application to review and set aside the Tribunal's X18 classification.

In a surprising turn of events, on 5 March 2018 (one day before the hearing of the application), the Tribunal, along with the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa and the Man and Boy Foundation (being the only complainants who opposed the relief sought by the filmmakers), agreed to an interim order in terms of which the film would be screened in cinemas under a classification of 18 SLNVP, pending the final determination of the review application, which will be heard on 28 March 2018. As such, Inxeba: The Wound will be screened in cinemas across the country from Friday, 9 March 2018.

The Webber Wentzel team consisted of Dario Milo, Lavanya Pillay and Thando Khumalo.​