Lorinda Marrian and Una Mudimeli
The nationwide release of Inxeba (The Wound) was met with mixed responses in parts of the country for its portrayal of Xhosa rituals and culture earlier this month. The movie follows the story of a closeted homosexual couple during the Xhosa initiation of ulwaluko which sees the sacred transition of boys into manhood.
Upon its release, various complaints and threats have been launched against its cast members and local protests from the Xhosa community in the Eastern Cape have caused certain cinemas to stop screening the film. The complaints centre around what many say is an incorrect portrayal of the initiation ceremony which should only be known to those that have taken part in it.
Some of the biggest critics of the film are the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) and several other cultural organisations that regard the movie as a misrepresentation of what happens during the initiation practice. Contralesa Gauteng Chairperson, Prince Manene Tabane, in an interview with the Mail and Guardian, went on to say that the movie “ridicules our cultural practice” and that what is being shown in the movie is not a portrayal of what happens “in the mountain”. He further goes on to say that it is “disgusting and disrespectful to our cultural practices”. On the other hand, Inxeba producer Elias Ribeiro speaking about the protests in an interview with the African News Agency said that the queer audience were being prevented from watching the movie by a “small group of men who feel their masculinity has been threatened by a fictional story”.
In the entertainment industry, several public figures such as Loyiso Bala initially showed disdain for the movie because it commercially exploits a sacred part of Xhosa culture. However, he has since called for a “debate of inclusive cultural respect and tolerance”. In response to the complaints about the movie’s portrayal of what should be a secret part of Xhosa culture, Inxeba co-writer Malusi Bengu said that the movie is not about the secrecy of Xhosa initiation and that Nelson Mandela already wrote more about the ceremony in his book A Long Walk to Freedom. He further said that the secrecy of the ceremony has previously been exposed by journalists who have reported on the deaths that occur during the practice.
The recent backlash and threats towards the cast and crew have caused many of them to seek a safe space outside of the spotlight. The producers have since laid complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Commission for Gender Equality in response to the violent threats against the movie and the cast members. Director John Trengove said in a statement that although the movie is not for everyone, there are many young South Africans, especially in the black queer community, who have the right to watch and engage with the film because it reflects something of their own experience. In support of the producers, The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) has condemned the violent threats surrounding the film. NFVF CEO Zama Mkosi, has said that the disruption of the screening of the movie is against the spirit of the South African Constitution.
On 14 February the Film and Publication Board (FPB) announced via Twitter that their Appeal Tribunal had overturned the film’s classification rating from 16 LS to X18, with “classifiable elements of Sex, Language, Violence and Prejudice.” Films with this rating cannot be shown in cinemas; however, speaking to Channel24 the FPB’s Manala Botolo said, “Inxeba has not been pulled from cinemas yet. Action will only be taken when the Appeal Tribunal gives its reasoning behind the change.”
Regardless of the current controversy, the movie has received positive responses from people on various social media platforms for its portrayal of a LGBTIAQ+ relationship in a traditional context.
The movie has also received high praise from critics and has since received eight South African Film and Television Awards (Safta) nominations and has won 19 international awards and was shortlisted for this year’s Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.