4399 The wound posterMulti-award-winning South African film Inxeba (The Wound) has come under fire for its subject matter. Described by Variety magazine as “a milestone in South African cinema”, the film stars musician and novelist Nakhane Touré as Xolani, a lonely factory worker who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood.

A small group of individuals have launched online attacks and threats directed at the cast and crew of the film via social media. They have taken exception to the film’s setting against the backdrop of Xhosa initiation rites. There are also concerns that much of the criticism of the film – levelled by individuals who have not actually seen the film, and who are refusing to do so despite being given the opportunity by the filmmakers – is the result of hatred motivated by homophobia. The South African Constitution not only protects individuals’ rights to freedom of speech, but also outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“We view these inexcusable threats in a serious light, and we will be taking appropriate action against any individual who threatens violence or commits homophobic hate crimes,” says producer Cait Pansegrouw, of Urucu Media. “‘Inxeba’ has attracted much interest from the South African public, many of whom are eagerly anticipating its local release. From the feedback we receive daily on the film’s Faacebook page, it is clear that the people attempting to shut the film down are speaking on behalf of a minority, and do not represent the ‘entire Xhosa nation’ as they claim.”

Inxeba was filmed in isiXhosa and is a proudly South African film that has drawn much praise from audiences around the world,” she adds. “It is a story that focusses on the complex relationship between traditional patriarchy and LGBTQ identity, issues which we believe are essential to speak about in contemporary South Africa. While we respect the decision of anyone who chooses not to watch ‘Inxeba’, we are fiercely committed to protecting the rights of South Africans who choose to view it, and make up their own minds about the value and integrity of the film.”

The filmmakers have pointed out that the film is certainly not the first to provide a glimpse into initiation rituals. Former President Nelson Mandela, in his book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, describes at length and in detail his experience of becoming a Xhosa man. The ritual was also depicted in the feature film biopic of the same title distributed worldwide and produced by Anant Singh’s Videovision.

In ‘A Man Who Is Not a Man’, written by Thando Mgqolozana, a co-writer on ‘Inxeba’, the controversial topic of botched traditional circumcisions is covered, with the story recounting the personal trauma of a young Xhosa initiate after a rite-of-passage circumcision has gone wrong. Mgqolozana decodes the values and mysteries of this deep-seated cultural tradition and calls to account the elders for the disintegrating support systems that allow such tragic outcomes to happen.

“Where are the Xhosa cries when young boys die,” asks another of the film’s co-writers Malusi Bengu. “Where is the passion and outrage when young boys are butchered for money by chance-takers?”

Co-producer Batana Vundla has added his voice to those questioning the worrying nature of the threats of violence and death against the cast and crew. “There are a number of genuinely concerned Xhosa South Africans who are perturbed at the thought that the secret tradition of Ulwaluko has been cast open for the whole world to see. Rest assured, that has not happened. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. How some people have come to this conclusion from watching a trailer speaks volumes about the levels ignorance at play here. If anything, through the constructive dialogue brought about by the film, initiation as a traditional practice and its in role in society has been strengthened by ‘Inxeba’. I want to stress that no secrets were revealed.”  

Testament to this view are the four ‘sold out’ screenings at the recent Durban International Film Festival, where Inxeba received nothing but praise from the audience. Vundla adds that threats by homophobes and outright hate mongers have assured him that the film is and will be important for many years to come.

Musician and actor Nakhane Touré, who plays the lead in the film, has received several violent threats, including that of being burnt alive. “People have jumped to conclusions about a film they haven't even seen. I speak as a Xhosa man who has been to initiation, and who is proud to have done so, when I say that no secrets are revealed. What is being revealed instead, is a violent homophobia. Those issuing threats are nowhere to be seen when Xhosa initiates are sexually assaulted during initiation. Where are you madoda when babies are raped in our communities? Where is your anger when women are raped and murdered? The answer is nowhere. Instead, you choose to attack an important and insightful film that I do not for a single moment regret being part of.”

Fellow actor Niza Jay says Inxeba is a significant moment in our history as a country. “The film and the different reactions it is eliciting point to the urgent need for us to find better ways of raising men and for men to come up with healthy, realistic ways of relating to one another. I maintain that anyone who makes a final judgement about the film without watching it needs to re-evaluate how they form opinions; it is dangerous and irresponsible to interact with a film – or any other contemporary issue – in this disturbingly aggressive manner.

“It is also disappointing that so many young people are not realising the opportunity for positive conversation and action, which could be initiated by ‘Inxeba’. It's even more troubling to see them encouraging the silencing and violent erasure of discourse that is offered by the film. To anyone who thinks you have a right to harass and threaten another human being, I say that highlights just how unsafe our society is at present.”

Producer Elias Ribeiro adds: “There is a wide misconception that ‘Inxeba’ is a commercial enterprise and that those involved are getting rich from the exploitation of sacred customs. This is absolutely untrue. ‘Inxeba’ is a passion project for all of us. The film was made with a modest budget, and all individuals who participated did so out of a strong personal belief in what the film is saying, rather than being motivated by financial gain.”

The filmmakers have noted that Inxeba was made with the local support of the National Film and Video Foundation, an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture, the Department of Trade and Industry and M-Net, and has received a 16LS approval rating by the Film and Publications Board of South Africa. It will have a limited Foreign Language Academy Award qualifying run from 15 September, and a nationwide release in February 2018.

The filmmakers are inviting interested individuals to watch the film and will be engaging with the appropriate stakeholders and representatives over the next few weeks to inform the debate.

 

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