Officials from Media Council and Uganda Police last week stopped the premiere of the controversial Hollywood film, The Wolf of Wall Street, at Cineplex Cinema in Kampala.
That move has since been misinterpreted by many as an ultimate ban on the film’s distribution in Uganda, which is not the case.
The truth is that the council previewed the film yesterday and will give its final verdict within the next 30 days as stipulated in the law. The process however usually takes less than a week depending on the nature of the film.
According to the law, a film or play may be refused classification if (in the view of the council) it is seen to abet pornography, homosexuality, child abuse, blasphemy and racism. It may also be banned on grounds of compromising national security, glamorizing crime and jeopardizing public morality among other reasons.
Already with two Golden Globe awards and five Oscar nods to its name, Wolf has failed to win favor from censors and morally-conscious audiences all over the world, thanks to its depravity in the form of too much sex, drugs and profanity.
The film has so far been banned or censored in over ten countries with Kenya as the latest moral guardian to pull the plug. It now remains to be seen whether the hit film will face similar wrath in Uganda where two theatre plays – one about the plight of gays and the other a political satire – were outlawed in 2012 for similar reasons.
It was however not until last year that Media Council ‘legalized’ its censorship function by establishing the Film Classification Secretariat (FCS) as empowered by the 1995 Press and Journalists Act (Cap 105). FCS has so far never banned any film; so, will Wolf be the first to face the axe?
Maybe. But there are also chances the film might get away with an 18 rating – the most exclusive and legally-binding category – after having some of its most explicit scenes (gay orgy, numerous sex parties, full nudity etc) cut out.
A closer analysis of the censorship regulations in fact supports this possibility. According to the laws, a copy of which can be found at the council website, scene-treatment and context can save a film. Treatment in film censorship means the manner in which content is presented (is it mild, frequent, strong, etc…?) while context means the background and relevance of the subject.
In Wolf’s case, its treatment makes it look more like a bad porn movie, which would obviously disqualify it. The film is however well contextualized considering it is a biopic. So therefore, the filmmaker was only being honest to true life events.
Directed and co-produced by the acclaimed Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead, this three-hour long epic charts the life of duplicitous stockbroker Jordan Belfort from a naïve stock trader to a wealthy powerful figure on Wall Street with a penchant for sex, drugs and making more money.
And although it primarily comes off as a debauchery-fest featuring sex, drugs and 569 variations of the F-word, the film successfully carries a subtle cautionary tale about the dangers of financial greed and addiction. In the end, Belfort almost loses everything except his will to inspire youth not to take his path.
Meanwhile, as we wait for the council’s decision on Wolf, it has emerged downtown pirates are making quick bucks by selling fake copies of the film to curious cinephiles looking to discover what it is government does not want them to see.
Many Ugandans have taken to social media to taunt government for trying to stop them from watching something they already have access to. The truth however is that they have been buying crap.
I have personally watched the original (as part of the preview team) as well as the market version, and the difference is startling! The copy that is illegally selling on the market was likely imported by a leading local film distribution firm from Asia, where over 45 minutes worth of footage has been cut out. Plus the picture is really grainy.