Photo: Ster Kinekor
The first time I heard of Inxeba was at a protest on campus. Predominantly male students gathered in front of the great hall and held up signs, accusing the film of insulting their culture by exposing the secret coming of age ritual that Xhosa men go through. I, being the nosey person I am, snooped through the crowds to find out what was going on. I got the following responses.
“The film they’re talking about doesn’t even show anything. They are just patriarch’s protesting.”
“The lot of them are homophobic. The film isn’t about their mountain secrets.”
“In our culture it is not something that we do, we don’t talk about it and expose it to women and outsiders. The director is even white, how can they tell us about our own stories”.
These were all responses to the two-minute trailer which was at that stage, the only thing that had been released.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the prevalence of stories about the LGBTI community from « Blue Is the Warmest Colour » to « Moonlight » and now « The Wound ». Stories of queer people, especially queer people of colour, are finally being told. Since the release of the trailer, Inxeba has faced heavy opposition and almost immediately boycotts were announced. The film was accused of cultural appropriation and violating the sanctity of ulwaluko. King Mpendulo Sigcawu even attempted to interdict screenings of it.
The film itself is set in beautiful rural Eastern Cape and it revolves around the lives of three gay African men. Xolani is a factory worker who’s life is a continuum of existence and not much more. He comes to the mountain every year as a caretaker for initiates. However, the real reason for Xolani’s yearly expedition is his love affair with caretaker Vija who is portrayed as this hyper masculine macho man.
Vija is almost the embodiment of a masculine African man. He has the ability to yield violence as a measure of protection and it stops him from getting a lot of the backlash that comes with being gay. Lastly Kwanda, who was such a compelling character. He is from Johannesburg and very open and self-assured. Kwanda’s presence itself is a disruption to the camp because he doesn’t allow himself to be put in a box because of his sexuality.
Inxeba is a film every African should watch. It poses so many questions about culture, its fluidity, how it’s ever changing and most importantly how the people who exist in it are the most important aspect of it. The film challenges the viewers to confront their homophobia. The script breathes life into the characters, humanises them.
To me the most resounding part of the film was the commentary of black hypermasculinity and the dangers thereof. The ritual itself is about black masculinity but the character development shows that there are different ways to express masculinity without it being toxic. The character Kwanda is an embodiment of this.
Inxeba gives commentary on how black masculinity is expressed, especially in Xhosa culture. Men are willing to protect that same masculinity that negatively affects them, just because of the perception it comes with in the society. My favourite part of the film is when the characters Kwanda and Xolani have this altercation in which Kwanda asks Xolani what authority he has on manhood when he cannot even live his truth.
This film was a story that needed to be told. It was absolutely riveting and I enjoyed every moment of it. Inxeba was a giant ‘we exist’ and a validation of the stories of gay african’s. It provided much needed representation. Inxeba was about self-acceptance and the very personal, very painful journey many gay men are forced to embark on. It was beautiful. It forced me to think, scream, cry and most importantly to feel.
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