After John Trengove’s Inxeba (The Wound) had its world premiere at the Sundance Festival on 22 January 2017. The film picked up a multitude of awards and even created some Oscar buzz. With its nationwide release a year later, the same film’s controversial subject matter caused local outrage that sent the cast and crew into hiding. Some cinemas in the Eastern Cape had to cancel screenings of Inxeba (The Wound) due to the protests, but the film’s producers lodged an official complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) because of this. Perdeby decided to take a look at the story behind the story.
The film follows Xolani (Nakhane Toure), a lonely factory worker, as he undertakes his annual trip to the rural Eastern Cape to serve as one of the caregivers in the Xhosa initiation process, ukwaluka. Xolani is assigned a defiant initiate, Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), who is unimpressed with the traditions forced upon him and is labelled by an elder as “too soft”. Tensions reach their peak after Kwanda accidently discovers that Xolani has a secret love affair with another caregiver Vija (Bongile Mantsai). To make matters even more complicated, Vija has a wife and children back home.
At the film’s core exists the isolation and otherness experienced by LGBTIAQ+ people. The issues of masculinity, sexuality and community are universally relevant, regardless of their cultural context. Inxeba (The Wound) offers a dark and stirring coming-of-age narrative that carries the same poignancy as Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016).
Inxeba (The Wound) is not an easy film to watch. Some scenes can be unsettling for sensitive viewers and the subject matter is definitely not easy to digest. This harshness is especially amplified by the film’s lack of comic relief. The film is raw and real and probably very necessary as it creates a dialogue about the effect of rigid tradition amidst an evolving society.
This film is definitely a good watch for those with the appetite for something more challenging. However, it is important to note that the film never aims to critique tradition. No, Inxeba (The Wound) rather offers an unflinching look at these traditional notions of masculinity and allows the audience to form their own opinions about the problems depicted.