In South Africa, just before Christmas last year, Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron wrote an open letter to the film producer of the movie adaptation of Spud. The official website of the movie can be found here. Spud, penned by John van de Ruit is the first of a series of books that relates the humorous ‘coming of age’ adventures of a young boy at a private all-boys boarding school in South Africa. The book was a great success in South Africa and the film adaptation included John Cleese in the talented cast. The official site of the book can be found here.
Justice Cameron’s open letter can be read here. In his open letter to Ross Garland, Justice Cameron raised his disquiet at the seeming homophobic slurs hinted at in some of the humour of the film production, including the joke of John Cleese’s character about ‘rogering lesbians’. Justice Cameron’s concerns are well-founded considering the very sensitive and also violent issues linked to sexuality that the LGBT community face in South Africa. He uses the example of ‘corrective rape’, a truly horrific crime, as grounds for the seeming insensitivity of some of the humour depicted within the film. There have been a series of articles written on ‘corrective rape’, one such can be found at the Guardian.
In response to Edwin Cameron’s open letter, the author of Spud has replied in the form of a letter written by the main character of his book, Spud Milton. Penguin Books has come out in support of John van de Ruit, Ross Garland, the freedom of expression and informed debate. Spud’s letter can be read here. Away from the world of fiction, a Cape Town based gay rights NGO has petitioned the South African government to have ‘corrective rape’ declared a hate crime and for crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation brought to the forefront of the criminal justice agenda. Information on this petition can be found here.
Though the jokes are intended to be humorous and the cinemas were abuzz with laughter, in light of the circumstances faced by the LGBT community within the world but especially in Malawi and South Africa, I cannot help but agree with Justice Cameron that these jokes do feed into a ‘larger horror of hatred, oppression and violence on our continent’.