Film

The money shot: Getting a rise out of the local porn industry

Matthew Krouse

It might be small but it's on its way to making a big impact. Matthew Krouse gets down and dirty

Recently I trucked around the suburbs of Johannesburg visiting porn stores. I was looking for Mapona, South Africa’s first all-black adult feature film.

Most shops were sold out. Others, which had merely caught wind of its arrival, were hunting down stock desperately. Demand was running high.

My journey to find Mapona took me through kilometres of images of copulating couples in stores strangely devoid of browsers. In the corners of many, flickering lights and faint moaning signalled the presence of masturbating men behind doors in viewing cubicles.

Finally, in Rosebank, after wading through quiet aisles of candy-coloured sex toys and DVD boxes sporting naked people in every acrobatic posture imaginable, I nearly had some luck.

The portly woman store manager stood behind a glass counter stuffed with lubricants, flavoured condoms and aphrodisiac pills. She was slowly ringing up a hefty pile of movies, the covers of which portrayed African-American men dressed as hip-hop stars with plenty of bling, surrounded by adoring women with gargantuan behinds.

An elderly black man hovered in the background, waiting to dash off with his stash. I leaned in and asked for a copy of Mapona. After the woman shook her head sadly, the customer shot to my side. He had a copy in his car, he told me. Together we traipsed out of the store, he lugging his bulk purchase in two brown packets, clutched to his heart.

He swung open the car door and hauled out a flimsy white disk, which he said he’d sell me for R120. I declined. I was deflated. I didn’t know if the disk had anything on it and I wanted the packaging. Besides, I was more interested in supporting local porn than local piracy.

While porn producers and distributors in South Africa claim the industry is on the rise, the handful of local titles seems to contradict this. After all, the country has not yet produced 50 movies. But the sales—and business models behind those—indicate that local porn production here is on the verge of an explosion.

According to Patrick Meyer, general manager of JT Publishing, the company that warehouses and distributes Mapona, just days after its release the video had sold well over 3000 copies at approximately R200 a disk. Recent local films have been made in three to five days at a cost of about R150 000, making it a lucrative proposition.

Stephen McDermott, who buys stock on behalf of Adult World’s national chain of 65 stores, says he had to re-order the video three times for placement in his stores in the month since its release.

A browse through the internet reveals the arrival of new companies gearing up for porn production: Liberate Studios, run in Cape Town by Reno Horn (aka porn star Kurt Rogers), made its fourth film, Cape Town Sun Fuckers, earlier this year. On his Facebook site Rogers claims he is looking for actors to star in coming heterosexual movies he has planned.

As a location for production South Africa is proving hospitable too. The prestigious Eastern European Bel Ami studio will launch a big budget production (one report put the budget at whopping $400 000) on October 28, a gay feature shot in the Mother City in March.

Mapona, which was produced by the team behind the explicit adult website, Sondeza.com, was months in the planning. Earlier this year, when one logged on to the website a shapely female bum in a bikini appeared above the words: “We’re making a movie—watch this space.”

An online advert invited browsers to the mega-launch that would take place on September 30 from 8pm to 4am at Bar 9 in Midrand—a door fee of R150 would entitle partygoers to a free DVD.

The invite provides something of a clue to the marketing prowess of the Sondeza crew: party-equals-girls-equals-merchandise. And because the marketing of porn also involves the creation of stars, Mapona golden girl Palesa Mbau will soon have her own website, courtesy of Sondeza.

It turns out the Afrikaans market has its own femme fatale: the tattooed and pierced Hunter, who is the star of Tongelong Productions’s latest offering, ‘n Pomp In Elke Dorp, appears on the cover of the November edition of the hardcore Afrikaans magazine, Stokstyf, and this month’s local edition of Hustler.

But at the Sondeza stable not all is rosy. On the phone from Melville on Monday, Mapona producer Tau Morena said that piracy is crippling his enterprise. He had just returned from Durban, where he went to organise a Mapona launch. There, just days after the Jo’burg launch of his DVD, he found the disk, in its full packaging, being sold in quantity at sidewalk spazas and by street hawkers.

Morena has lodged a complaint with the Film and Publications Board (FPB) and Sondeza is considering approaching the police. But having legally procured my copy from Private, the supermarket-sized porn store in Blackheath, I took it home for a viewing.

There are five actors in the movie and five scenes that take place in and around a crappy downmarket townhouse cluster development with suburban pretensions. The first scene unravels in the kitchen when hubby arrives home from work and takes his woman. The environment is what a real estate agent might call aspirational—the cupboards are constructed from cheap, prefabricated material but at least there’s a granite top.

In the most extraordinary of the five scenes an overweight peeping Tom is so taken by what he sees through the keyhole of the townhouse front door—two naked maids cleaning the townhouse lounge—that he suffers a light coronary as he breaks the door down in his fervour. Then there’s a threesome in which he is given first aid, the maids calling him boss throughout the affair. At the end the enormous stallion looks up, face dripping with sweat, and says: “It’s nice to have maids, it’s awesome.”

The story behind Mapona is really the story of the new South Africa. Urban Africans have gained the means of production—even owning the pornographic image is ostensibly empowering.

There are bad designer kitchens and mediocre cars in the garage and, a few scenes down the line, a couple manages to have claustrophobic sex on the front seat of a Citi Golf. The myth promises that the more you gain materially, the more the girls become available.

Meanwhile, the latest Afrikaans porn features - ‘n Pomp in Elke Dorp, Kwaai Naai and the much-hyped Amor: ‘n Bok vir Sports—have been shot in some startlingly opulent mansions. In these films every­one is white. We see the madam and the gardener and the madam and the pool cleaner.

One wonders whether the heterosexual industry will engage with the reality of South African colour dynamics in its coming forays into multiracial pornography. One international production shot in Cape Town for the gay market has two white boys being sodomised by three black boys on a pool table in a township pool hall.

In another, Wild Game: A South African Sex Safari, a hectic sadomasochistic scene unfolds between a leather-clad black master and a bound white slave in front of an enormous artwork by William Kentridge.

But Morena is adamant that Mapona is more than just pure titillation. He says there is some educational value in his film.

“In my mind we are pushing a below-the-line marketing campaign to ensure that we really put it out there that using condoms is the right thing to do and wearing a condom is normal,” Morena says.

In Mapona, condoms are worn in all scenes involving penetration. And, surprisingly, there are no images of ejaculation—the money shot in most porn films. Meanwhile, in the spate of Afrikaans movies recently produced, condoms are seldom visible.

In the same week that Mapona hit the shelves in South Africa the Los Angeles porn industry virtually shut down after it was announced that one of the top porn stars had tested positive for HIV.

According to a report in the Guardian, California law requires employers to “safeguard their workers against the exchange of bodily fluids. However, most studios bypass the requirement on the grounds that the actors they use are self-employed.”

In South Africa porn made or sold in the country does not have to comply with any regulation in terms of safe-sex portrayal, but is bound by other constraints. But the FPB regulates the production and distribution of pornography. Dumisani Rorwana, the acting manager for legal and regulatory affairs of the FPB, says that every film or publication that comes into the country, or is made here, is supposed to be reviewed by the board.

“The Film and Publication Act classifies pornography in two categories: very explicit pornography, classified X18, and what we normally refer to as soft porn,” Rorwana says.

“Prior to selling anything to Adult World, producers (and any other party) have to submit to us for classification. If you want to distribute a film that is classified X18 it may be sold only from a registered shop. Those films may not be shown on television, they may not be distributed via the internet or via mobile networks.”

While there are well over 100 adult stores operating across South Africa, it’s the internet that provides an unquantifiable source of pornography in the country. Even a limited browse reveals sites like sextrader.co.za and amateurssa.co.za.

Rorwana says locally sold DVD covers are not required by law to say that the performers are over 18, but the law does state that nobody under the age of 18 may appear in “those kinds of films”.

The porn producers we spoke to say they require actors to produce an identity document stamped by a commissioner of oaths to confirm their age. But, in addition to the age limitation, other illegal behaviour includes “sexual conduct that violates or shows disrespect to the right of human dignity, violent sexual conduct, incest, sexual activity involving animals”.

While local porn producers are gearing up for a high season, the authorities are engineering something of a crackdown. Malusi Gigaba, the deputy minister of home affairs, has gone into battle with the industry in the past year.

He was present at a porn store raid in East London in December 2009 and is intending to fast-track a law that will compel internet and cellphone porn providers to filter content.

In July a symposium was held under the auspices of the FPB to look at ways of protecting minors from internet and cellphone porn.

“We have not come up with clear timelines in terms of what needs to be done,” Rorwana says. “But we expect to come up with proposals to the effect that there ought to be task teams made up of all interested parties to deal with public awareness, education and codes of conduct—to look at the law and see what needs to be done.”

But if the state chooses to clamp down on electronic porn then porn producers of all kinds will be affected because, worldwide, porn is marketed and sold online, direct to the consumer.

My journey through the local porn enclave ended at the multifaceted empire owned by porn king Joe Theron, which includes the Sting Music company, JT Publishing and a wholesale and distribution operation.

Their offices are based in Jeppestown, a business suburb full of street traders, loitering migrants, decaying houses and street pollution. Behind a high security wall, the offices are sedate and comfortable, like a dentist or lawyer’s rooms.

Inside the reception walls are adorned with framed music disks. Pride of place is given to a framed first edition of South Africa’s Hustler magazine, dating back to August 1993.

In an open-plan office I meet magazine editor Rilette Meyer, responsible for Hustler, Loslyf and Stokstyf, which, she says, each has a respectable monthly circulation of 20 000 readers.

Tall, intense and courteous, Meyer could be a model, a country star or a journalist, which, in fact, she is. I ask about the sudden interest in home-grown porn.

“It shows that South Africans are interested in every aspect of South African life, including what goes on in the bedroom,” Meyer says. But what’s interesting, she notes, is that, while South Africans may have “a kind of cultural envy” about American movies generally and local movies don’t do well, South African consumers of porn have different needs.

“There is a parallel between Sondeza and the Afrikaans market,” Meyer says. “We identify with the things people say and do—there’s a loyalty, no matter how good or bad the quality is.”

Who knew? Porn, it seems, is also Proudly South African.


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