CRITICALLY-acclaimed local flick, Inxeba: The Wound, was released in Mzansi to much criticism and downright hostility.
I assumed, incorrectly, that people would stop at boycotting it and writing bad reviews (most of which were baseless since some of the movie’s biggest critics hadn’t even seen it, but based their arguments on its trailer) intended at dissuading others from watching it.
This is what one expects would happen in a democratic country. But the reaction was far more menacing, with scores of people threatening to burn down movie theatres that showed the production.
In response, various movie houses across the country cancelled the screening of the movie. It started first in the Eastern Cape then proceeded to the Western Cape.
To say I was stunned at such a violent reaction to a movie, regardless of how uncomfortable its storyline was, would be putting it mildly.
Fearful that its screening might be cancelled across all Nu Metro and
Ster Kinekor cinemas, I rushed to Menlyn Mall, in Pretoria, on Saturday afternoon to watch it.
I wanted to see the movie for two specific reasons:
Firstly: the screenplay is by Thando Mgqolozana, one of my favourite writers and founder of the Abantu Book Festival.
Thando is the author of A Man Who Is Not A Man, a powerful novel that recounts the story of a young Xhosa initiate who has to live with the trauma of a botched traditional circumcision.
Secondly: I wanted to understand what the uproar was about.
Never has a movie generated as much heated debate as Inxeba: The Wound has, and experience has taught me that this kind of uproar is often the result of discomfort, of people not wanting to engage what is usually a deeply uncomfortable subject.
Calling for the movie to be banned deepened my curiosity: I wouldn’t allow intolerant people to deny me my democratic right.
My upbringing has shaped my personality to be incompatible with being dictated to by what I can and cannot read or watch.
Inxeba: The Wound is a story about forbidden love in a hyper-masculine society.
Xolani, a Xhosa man who grew up in a traditional community, goes to the mountain every year to initiate young boys into manhood through the ritual of ulwalukho/lebollo.
Then one day a young boy from the city, Kwanda, is forced to go through the initiation ritual by his father, who thinks his son is too soft and needs to be taught how to be a “proper” Xhosa man.
Kwanda is openly gay and is constantly affirming his humanness in the face of cruel mockery and dehumanisation. While at the mountain, he discovers that Xolani, his ikhankatha, (a guardian of initiated boys) has a homosexual relation with another ikhankatha, Vija, who performs violent masculinity toward amakhwenkwe (initiates), almost as if to distance himself from his “weakness”. Both Xolani and Vija’s lives begin to unravel when Kwanda finds them in a naked embrace.
I’m not a Xhosa man, and as such am not in a position to debate whether, or not, there are inaccuracies in the movie about ulwalukho.
Throughout our whole lives, we have been told that women should never ask about ulwalukho – that we aren’t to know what happens at the mountain. It’s culture and is sacred, we’ve been told.
SO, we don’t know whether what the movie depicts is a true reflection of the ritual, and can only engage the issue of
hyper-masculinity the movie is fundamentally about.
The argument that the movie tramples on black culture is unreasonable, for the simple reason that culture is neither homogenous nor static. Furthermore, a lot of deeply problematic things are done in the name of culture, including the heteropatriarchal practices the movie so poignantly reveals.
Hyper-masculinity is a societal problem that affects everyone.
What Inxeba: The Wound ultimately communicates to us is that men can’t love themselves in a patriarchal culture if their self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules.
This because by their nature, such rules limit their own liberation and capacity to be fully human.