Fa'afafine President responds to Rocketman ban

The President of the Samoa Fa’afafine Association (S.F.A.), Alex Su’a, said his organisation doesn’t feel strongly about the banning of Rocketman, which is a biographical drama life story of Elton John.

Samoa Censorship Board’s Principal Censor Leiataua Niauapu Faaui banned the film from screening due to its displays of homosexual sexual activity. 

As the voice for Samoa’s fa’afafine and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (L.G.B.T.I.) community, Mr. Su’a said the truth is people in their organisation have been through worse discrimination than the banning of a film.

“A lot of people call me on behalf of S.F.A. and the L.G.B.T.I. community expecting that we should be the ones to come up with the uproar, but I think we have been subjected to a lot of labelling, victimising, discrimination, and we are a lot more resilient now,” Mr. Su’a said.

“Ban the movie? We’re like, okay, ban the movie, we’ll go and download it free off the internet. That’s how resilient we are.”

But Mr. Su’a said the decision does reveal a discriminatory attitude by the Censor, who chooses to ban scenes of gay sex but not straight sex.

“The decision is purely discriminatory,” Mr. Su’a said. 

A lawyer by profession, Mr. Su'a said the Film Control Act 1978 (F.C.A) does not specify homosexual acts make a film worthy of banning, and that the censor is exercising the power of his own opinion.

The F.C.A. is based on opinion. Section 18 (Powers of the Principal Censor) states the criteria by which films will not be approved, according to the censor’s opinion. 

Mr. Su’a believes perhaps the censor may have grounds to say Rocketman met the criteria where the film is “contrary to public order, or undesirable in the public interest".

But in that case, the lawyer called for consistency across censorship decisions.

“That’s what the law is about, those are factors he has to consider, but obviously he is very selective about it,” he said.

“If he is saying that there are homosexual scenes there, which is against Christian principles, well if we talk about Christian principles and values, sex outside of marriage is unchristian, right? 

“Polygamy is not allowed in the Bible, eating seafood, why can’t you ban that if you want to stick to your grounds of Christian principles and values.”

Mr. Su’a said neither he, nor the S.F.A. is “interested” in the broadcasting of sexual scenes, homosexual or not. He just wants to see a consistent and non-discriminatory approach to censorship.

“I think the law needs to be reviewed because it’s giving him so much power that his personal opinions are now infused in it. You can’t define which one is which, he’s too powerful.

“He said he has nothing against fa’afafines and homosexuals, well we don’t know that for sure.”

But the community is using the Rocketman “kerfuffle", as Mr. Su’a puts it, as a chance to reflect on their advocacy work.

They are a strongly consultative group, working with religious and community leaders to try and change negative attitudes towards fa’afafine, fata’ama and L.G.B.T.I. people in Samoa. For S.F.A, changing attitudes is the first step to eventually changing laws.

In 2013, the S.F.A successfully lobbied for the repeal of the Crimes Ordinance Act 1961 which criminalised the impersonation of a female by any male in Samoa. Though police stopped enforcing the law by the early 1980’s, the repeal was seen as a win for fa’afafine who are still victimised for being different.

Mr. Su’a said banning Rocketman is a small step back for the fa’afafine and L.G.B.T.I. community.

“It’s disappointing for us in the sense that it’s a feedback for us that we need to do a lot more,” Mr Su’a said.

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