InxebaOne of South Africa’s most controversial recent movies, Inxeba (The Wound), has made it on to the short-list of nine films in the foreign language category of the 90th Oscars. The final list of five nominations will be announced on Tuesday night, 23 January.

Directed by first-time feature director John Trengrove, The Wound portrays a closeted gay relationship in the context of the secret Xhosa initiation ritual. Traditional leaders have called for the film – which has not yet been screened on the general circuit in South Africa – to be banned.

This was the second honour in a month for The Wound. It was also named the year’s Best Foreign Film by the African American Film Critics Association. The AAFC, the world’s largest group of professional black film critics, will present the award at the 9th annual AAFCA Awards ceremony on 7 February in Hollywood. The Wound was first screened to critical acclaim at the Sundance Festival a year ago, on 22 January 2017.

The Wound is based on the novel “A Man Who is Not a Man” by Thando Mgqolozana, who wrote the screenplay along with Malusi Bengu and Trengrove. The producers describe it as a “dynamic examination of sexuality, masculinity and the clash between traditional and contemporary African values”. It deals with three young men who take part in the harsh and secretive, weeks-long initiation ceremony of Xhosa youth in the Eastern Cape bush, which includes circumcision without pain killers. There are hints of a gay relationship developing between two of the youths.

A majority of the actors in the movie have themselves been through the initiation rites. The film’s star, Nakhane Toure, has been subject to social media threats and abuse, partly over the film’s unmasking of a secret rite, and partly because of the homosexual theme. As Toure points out, none of his critics have seen the film, which will only be screened in South Africa from February. The directors and actors insist that the film was made with considerable sensitivity to the context, and that much of the detail of the initiation rites has not been shown.