‘Spud’ supports homophobia while its producer cries hate speech

By Rebecca Hodes

After the furore that erupted this week over Edwin Cameron’s statements about homophobia in the film ‘Spud’, and the embittered response by the film’s producer, Ross Garland, I decided to go and watch the film to see for myself.

Now let me confess that I haven’t read the book, and so can’t comment on whether the film was a fair depiction of homophobia in ‘Spud’, the novel. Having spent a year at a private Anglican girl’s high school, I’ve experienced enough of the ass-groping and nun’s fanny/fart jokes by the lower Michaelhouse-types to not want to trawl through another 200 odd pages of these. In addition, one of my closest friends (and an incisive literary critic) described the book as ‘lank unfunny, hey’, while another stopped reading after a few chapters when the unrelenting anxiety of the protagonist (which is portrayed in the film by the protagonist’s overuse of the word ‘terrified’) brought on a bout of mild nausea.

If the film is an accurate depiction of the sanctioning of homophobia in the book, so much the worse. The film itself is unquestionably homophobic and misogynistic. It fails to problematise the bigotry and brutality of its characters, and portrays these as a part of the casual, romping good fun of boarding school life (together with sneaking out for a night swim or howling at the moon). Spud’s art teacher/failed sports coach is a mincing caricature of a gay man, who the viewer is invited to deride and ridicule for his campness as much as his incompetence. The film’s portrayal of women and girls is as crude, although it fails to elicit the viewer’s sympathy in at least one instance. The supposedly ugly girl character, Christine, is obviously gorgeous, despite her mussed hair and the wet, slurping sounds that have been engineered to accompany her graunching of every boy she can lay her hands on. The message here is that the ugly girls are often also the sluts, who must use sex to compensate for their loss of social capital resulting from their wearing of braces (a trite proxy for hideousness).

What intrigued me the most about the press controversy over the film was the rage of producer Garland, who accused Cameron of violating freedom of expression in his critique of the film. This is about as ridiculous as accusing Pregs Govender of misogyny. Cameron has spent decades working as an advocate for greater human rights protections in South Africa, and continues to do so. Garland reported that he was seeking legal advice to ascertain whether Cameron’s comments constitute defamation, with the implication that he may decide to charge him if such a case could be made. It can’t.

Garland is obviously very attached to the book and the film, and has invested a lot of money and professional prowess in the latter. He described the book as ‘the nation’s most beloved novel’, although surely a stronger case could be made for ‘Jock of the Bushveld’, one of Annelie Botes’ novels or even, perhaps, the bible. So what if the film is the best grossing in South African history? This doesn’t give it a shred of value (besides, of course, the monetary). Just because Steve Hofmeyer sells more albums than Thembi Seete doesn’t make his music suck any less.

So don’t watch ‘Spud’. It isn’t worth it. Take your R45 and send it to the Triangle Project or Rape Crisis or Equal Education. All of these organisations conduct workshops to help South Africans to confront sexual violence and the practical harms wrought by callous stereotyping in the media. Garland should attend one, I’m sure a red carpet entrance could be arranged.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read Spud’s reply to Justice Cameron, you can do so here


12 thoughts on “‘Spud’ supports homophobia while its producer cries hate speech”

  1. Thank you for this! And your idea re: donating the R45 to a gender awareness/education/activism group is the best I’ve seen yet. The “Spud” et al group’s casual disrespect of Constitutional Court judge is abhorrent, petty, and childish.


  2. What a great read!
    Jen and I were chatting about this yesterday, saying that the issue isn’t so much whether or not there homophobic remarks actually occur in schools. We all know they do. It’s the fact that the fictional characters don’t confront those remarks and engage with them. It’s about providing signals that those sorts of comments have to be challenged. Not including them as a way to get a laugh into the script.


  3. Although I fully support everyone and anyone having their own opinion on a book or film, I fear that the author somehow (in the book on which the movie is based and the movie itself) is missing the point. I am fully aware that historically the film industry is male dominated – and certainly still is to some degree. But as a boy who boarded through school and further into university, I enjoyed the book immensely as it was (in my opinion) a light-hearted look at what life really is like in these establishments. I realise that listening to a kid whining about his school life can be “lank unfunny”, but somehow Adrian Mole got it right and I think so has Spud, in his own South African way. These things are always subjective I guess, but I would not throw the baby out with the bath water. I don’t think the book addresses the seriousness of homophobia or misogyny for the same reason that it’s not going to go down in literary history as a master piece of prose: it’s a comedy. It’s meant to poke fun. Take it at face-value and you might find yourself having a chuckle 🙂


  4. Brilliant article! And I concur, brilliant suggestion at the end, and that is what I shall do. I refuse to finance bigotry. Justice Cameron’s letter was sincere but alas, the spud-reply is insolent and spurious.


  5. I loved this article, but I actually really enjoyed the letter from Spud. I thought it was really great first of all that the author responded, as it is the book that created the form of the movie. I think that Mike is right – that whilst the movie could have portrayed the homophobia, there could just as easily been a character who called the boys on it to make it clear that those comments weren’t ok.

    I do think that if nothing else this has raised a really important point which is that we need to think more about whether it’s ok to reflect life in a book without applying a critique, or whether we must include some sort of negotiation of the difficult issues. We don’t live in a country where everything is all worked out yet, and that’s why this movie (which I haven’t seen) has been important in raising these issues.


  6. Mmm hi Rebecca and Jen! This is a great site.

    I read the book and didn’t find it boring nor lacklustre because I wasn’t looking for anything more than a light read and a quick foray into the life of a young white child in early 90s South Africa. I must say, I actually quite enjoyed it because I took it for what it was – just that. I was initially interested in seeing the movie but didn’t get to it until Justice Cameron’s letter. My girlfriend and I went to see it last week because we wanted to judge for ourselves and as much as I thought the execution was painfully mediocre, I really didn’t feel the punches of misogyny and homophobia that I was expecting after the mini media frenzy about it. Nothing. I wasn’t offended and I’m a queer woman. What was so homophobic about the gay art teacher portrayal? The way he was portrayed as a camp man? or that he was portrayed without any challenge to the stereotype that camp men probably don’t play sport, let alone teach it? That they wear pastel pinks and wrap their jerseys around their shoulders and have limp wrists? I hate to generalise but I’m surrounded by people who are like that. Is the offence perhaps in that the movie makers meant for that part to be funny, so people laughed? I think the question you need to ask is “Why do people still laugh at those images”? and not blame the movie for not challenging a problem that lies within society. Spud started out as a funny, never to be taken very seriously kind of book that is now a movie and I’m sure it’s on its way to becoming a million rand merchandise machine – let’s not forget the pinches of salt that go with these kind of movies.

    I really don’t get how the movie promotes hatred of gay people. For me, it embraced the reality of gay individuals within society and it’s us the audience that should be questioned for how we view these individuals.


  7. A well written argument but I must argue my point of view. This article you have written is written perfectly as one of those shitty feminist things that nit-pick the movie for the slightest wrong doing. The movie was a great light-hearted movie that yes had the one suggestion to faggotism but was in no other way a homophobic movie. They were depicting a ordinary teenage boy who yes a lot of narrow headed teenage boys throw around the word faggot. I’m not saying I agree with this but it is a life like depiction. The lead character troye sivan is homosexual and would not partake in a movie that was homophobic. It was a well written movie from a well written book and at one point was the most popular movie in South Africa. Your opinion is nil.


  8. I had an uncle, once, whom was the world’s most prominent ballet dancer, who was openly gay ( Gary Burne 1935-1976 )

    I have other family members, very close to me, whom are gay, and open, whom confide with me when they need help.

    My previous male neighbours, are, openly gay, and were married ( they divorced).

    A very large proportion of persons in my (artistic) professional occupation, are openly gay, studied in the ’70s with them, and have worked for a few gay bosses when in junior practice.

    I regarded and respected all these people, and some I also love.

    ‘Spud’ – I read the book, and saw the movie ( bought it ) and thought it quaintly reminiscent of long gone RL ( real-life) from the ’60s portrayed in the most delightful and light-hearted manner, and with fair intellect including cliché.

    My comment to this unbelievably crass article by Rebecca Hodes, is, ” DO YOURSELF A VERY URGENT FAVOUR AND GET A LIFE”.
    Patently, she is so myopicly regressive any about such subjectives as homophobia, that she can’t understand, or is totally uneducated in the concept that art, in all it’s forms including literature and drama, and Zuma’s penis painting for that matter, are usually accurate reflections of REAL LIFE, which I then imagine she does not have, in terms of anything meaningful. This article is so bad, including the crass suggestion about donating R 45 rather than watching the movie, beggars belief.

    I also imagine that Judge Cameron, very carefully, ‘wound his neck in’ at the ( substantive and correct in my view ) producer’s threat of litigation.


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