Sex on screen: Taboo or changing culture? — Part One

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By Farayi Mungoshi

I MISSED the premiere of the movie Escape directed by Agnieszka Piotrowska and our very own Joe Njagu at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival.
I was gutted because nearly everybody who is somebody in the Zimbabwe film industry was there.
The movie filled up two film houses, a feat never achieved before in the history of the festival.
I can imagine the feelings of the filmmakers involved.
Now I have finally had a chance to watch Escape, almost a month later.
I liked the cinematography.
They managed to capture the African beauty they were looking for through their opening drone shots, which showed the green that Africa is, the beautiful musasa trees, the hills and the mountains captured from an aerial view.
I can understand why others have labelled it ‘the rebirth of film industry in Zimbabwe’.
It is a far cry from some of the home videos that we have come to identify as film here in Zimbabwe.
It is quite evident a lot of effort and money was put into the making of this film and that alone should not go without applause.
“Listen to the score,” appreciated Mike Zemura, a filmmaker with Mirazvo Productions.
The sound and score was well knit.
Njagu has come a long way since Lobola and Gentleman. He is clearly headed for greater things.
There was some good acting from Jose Marques and Nothando Nobengula, as well as from Eddie Sandifolo, Maria Wilson, Selmor Mtukudzi and Acie Lumumba, among others.
However, Tafadzwa Zimoyo and Tawanda Matanhire in an article in The Herald described the film as ‘much ado about nothing’.
And yes, there were whispers in the corridors at the Premiere among fellow filmmakers about the overuse of the drone and some close-ups that ended up undoing the good make-up done on artists.
What kept urging me to watch this movie was how some Zimbabwean film lovers are crying foul over the repeated sex scenes or rather short quick-flashes showing people having sex, saying this is not part of our tradition and culture to show people having sex or kissing.
I wanted to see what the big fuss was all about, and indeed I saw it.
One filmmaker asked: “What culture?”
He argued culture, unlike tradition, is ever changing and evolving.
He challenged me to look around Zimbabwe today in comparison to the world.
Day-by-day, we are becoming more like them, (Westerners).
If we want to maintain our identity without outside influence, then it is vital for more filmmakers to know their history and who they are, lest they lead us astray.
But then again, how does one deal with a situation whereby sex is the main issue at hand in the movie and it has to be shown in order for the film to make sense; for example Daves Guzha’s Sinners.
The sex scenes in that film were more graphic that those in Escape, but because the story is based around the female rapists who terrorised Harare some time back, the deed had to be shown.
While most filmmakers would agree with Njangu that the world is fast-changing and that we need to ‘move forward with the times’ by demystifying such taboos as kissing or sex on screen, others who are not in the industry find it hard to fathom such actions.
I recall once during one of the many film screenings at Production Services in the 1990s having to move seats after Nobert Fero, a filmmaker, whispered in my ear that there were some explicit sexual scenes in the film we were about to watch and that my mother was the last person I would want to be seated next to at such a time.
I nodded, thanked him and moved seats.
There is something about black people that makes it hard for us to stomach a sex scene by a fellow Zimbabwean.
Maybe it is because half the time we are somehow related or we know somebody who is related to the person acting in such a scene or it is a sister. It is not an easy thing to watch such even though deep down you know it is just acting.
One of the hardest scenes I have ever had to watch to date is the bedroom scene in Neria, whereby Neria was in the bedroom talking to her husband just before going to bed.
The first time I saw it, I felt a lump in my throat, followed by a repeated tapping of my feet before I started sweating.
Neria and her husband did not even touch in that scene, but the fact that they were in the bedroom, dressed in nighties was enough.
At that point, Neria ceased being Neria to me and became my mother, Jesesi Mungoshi, the one who bore and brought me up – dressed in a night dress and in a bedroom with this other man acted by Emmanuel Mbirimi, was enough to set me on fire.
Even my grandparents were uncomfortable with it despite the fact there wasn’t even any kissing or even hugging in that scene.
The setting was enough to set me on fire and I would want to think that’s how hard it is with others.
I am sure there are some fans of Selmor Mtukudzi’s who were not happy to see her kissing in the film Escape.
Will we ever get used to seeing our own sons and daughters kissing on the big screen?
And most importantly is Njagu redefining Zimbabwean film history?

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