‘Is This a Nightmare?’: Shock and Outrage as South African Film Board Rejects Groundbreaking African Classic ‘Black Girl’ Over ‘Hate Speech’ Most Popular Must Read Sign Up for Variety Newsletters More From Our Brands

The Joburg Film Festival opened Thursday with a screening of Ousmane Semben’s “Black Girl” after South Africa’s Film and Publications Board (FPB) refused to allow a public screening of the Senegalese director’s debut. Moved forward, refusing to bow to political pressure. .

In a decision that surprised festival organizers and many African filmmakers, an FPB reviewer recommended submitting the film for “full classification” – a process that would determine its suitability for public viewing. shall determine – “because of the prejudicial element involved in such acts. Hate speech which degrades a human being.

The festival appealed the decision but decided to go ahead with Thursday’s screening after there was no official response to the appeal. FPB did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Variety For comment

Addressing moviegoers on Thursday, a festival spokesman dismissed the board’s “unfair” decision and defended the screening of Sembene as a “monument of African cinema” as a “matter of principle”. which is “linked to the spirit of protest which is the founding spirit. of our country.”

Friend Faryala
Courtesy Joburg Film Festival

Variety In addition to “Black Girl,” the review board has flagged the screening of at least two other films at this week’s Joburg Film Festival: Rafiki Fariala’s “We Students!”, about university students in Central Africa; A documentary about the group. Republic, which played at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, and Vladimir Seixas’ “Rolê — Histórias dos Rolezinhos,” a documentary about the shopping mall protests that left thousands of black people in Brazil subjected to racial profiling by security guards and Mobilized against violence.

Based on a short story written by Sembène, “Black Girl” follows a young Senegalese woman who moves to France in search of a better life. After taking a job as a governess for a wealthy white family, she finds her hopes thwarted by racist and humiliating events that ultimately drive her to commit suicide.

Credited with being Sub-Saharan Africa’s first feature film, Sembene’s 1966 debut film played an important role in laying the foundations of post-colonial African cinema. In a 2015 review of Samba Gudjigo and Jason Silverman’s documentary about the late filmmaker, Damn!” VarietyK Guy Lodge described “Black Girl” as “a brief, poignant snapshot of immigrant life in France that achieved unprecedented international exposure for a film from sub-Saharan African cinema.” adding that the director’s “scorching brand of political cinema has lost none. Its rhetoric and sensual immediacy over the years.

The film was previously screened at the Joburg Film Festival in 2016 without controversy.

In South Africa, where memories of apartheid-era censorship run deep, the FPB’s decision drew a backlash from the local film community.

Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker Jahan Altahiri (“House of Saud”), a jury member at this year’s festival who has worked as a filmmaker and university lecturer, said, “I don’t I understand and I am absolutely terrified.” Almost 20 years in South Africa.

“‘Black Girl’ is not just any movie. ‘Black Girl’ is an important film in African history. “It is the film that initiates the idea of ​​an African place in international cinema. [and] was the first film to give African women a voice – the dignity of an African woman and what she faced.”

Ousmane Sembène’s “Black Girl” holds the distinction of being the first feature film from sub-Saharan Africa.
Courtesy Film Foundation

Al Tahri, whose 2008 documentary “Behind the Rainbow” explored the transition of South Africa’s African National Congress from a pro-independence group to a ruling party, said the FPB’s decision, if upheld, ” There will be a change that is totally unacceptable to the film heritage across the continent.

He said, “If South African students, the South African public, are no longer allowed to see films like these – those essential films that changed the way we, from our point of view, can tell a story. – It’s a disaster,” he said.

Senegalese director Moussa Sein Absa, whose “Xalé” opened this year’s Joburg Film Festival, expressed disbelief at the board’s decision. “Am I dreaming? Is this a nightmare? Was ‘Black Girl’ censored in South Africa?” he said. “Absolutely not. no way. no way.”

Moses Sen Absa
Courtesy of Gerhard Kassner/Berlinale

Citing the film’s influence on his career as an emerging director more than three decades ago, Absa describes Sembene’s film as a visual poetry of its subjugation and humiliation by French colonialists on West African colonies. Appreciated the criticism. He asserted that it was the first film to break the colonial narrative that African filmmakers were unable to tell their own stories.

“I can’t imagine it,” he said, reflecting on the decision. “This film opened many doors for African cinema. It’s a no-brainer.”

In the FPB report, a copy of which was obtained. variety, The reviewer noted several “scenes of prejudice” in violation of Film Board regulations, including a French newspaper headline describing the main character’s suicide (“Young Negress in Employer’s Bathroom cuts her throat”), and a dinner table scene in which a French guest tells His fellow “Africans eat only rice” and “their freedom has made them less natural.”

That content, the reviewer determined, “may be threatening, disturbing or cognitively harmful to children under the age of 13 because they are still immature and vulnerable to the complex themes of exploitation and oppression.” are impressive…[and] will not be able to understand the director’s intention to show the effects of colonialism and slavery.

However, festival organizers noted that children under the age of 13 were already banned from viewing the film.

Ousmane Sembène’s Venice Special Jury Prize winner “Mandabi” is playing in Johannesburg this week.
Studio Channel

“Black Girl” is the centerpiece of a programming strand paying homage to Sembene at the Joburg Film Festival, which would have celebrated its centenary this year. Presented as part of the Africa Film Heritage Project, a collaboration between Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers and UNESCO to discover, restore and preserve African films, Sidebar Sembene The Venice Special Jury will also screen a digitally restored version of the prize. Along with a selection of other important African works, including the winner “Mandbi”.

The controversy in Johannesburg this week is reminiscent of a similar incident at the Durban Film Festival in 2013, when the FPB’s decision against Jahmil XT Qubeka’s “Off Good Report” prompted organizers to close the film’s opening night. Forced to show a black screen in the premiere.

The Joburg Film Festival runs from 31 January to 5 February.

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