Controversial South African Film Inxeba (The Wound) opens in cinemas across the country tomorrow, Friday 01 February. Ahead of its highly-anticipated opening weekend, pre-screenings were hed in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth, many of them attracting a star-studded audience.
The film tells the story of Xolani (Nakhane) a lonely factory worker, who every year, joins other men from his village in the mountains, where they initiate a new group of teenage boys in the ways of Xhosa manhood. But when Kwanda (Niza Jay), a defiant initiate from the city, discovers Xolani’s closeted love affair with another man, his entire existence begins to unravel.
“85% of the people who attended the pre-screenings gave it the thumbs up and thought that it should have been nominated for an Oscar,” says producer Elias Ribeiro. “The film has been criticised by traditional leaders and social media users for its portrayal of the Xhosa initiation ceremony, but once people see the film they have an entirelyy different take on the subject, and how the various themes are portrayed. It does not expose anything about Xhosa initiation that is not already in the public domain.”
Inxeba has been screened across the continent and around the world to widespread critical acclaim. To date, it has won 19 awards at 44 festivals in more than 25 countries worldwide including South Africa.
Director John Trengove collaborated with many Xhosa speakers including Batana Vundla and, to co-write the script, novelist Thando Mgqolozana. “I have said all along that ‘The Wound’ is not for everyone,” says Trengove. “I deeply respect any individual who chooses not to buy a ticket. There is, however, a portion of South Africans, particularly from the black queer community, who have every right to watch and engage with it because it reflects something of their own experience. I can’t help thinking that those trying to censor the South African screening are motivated by deep-seated homophobia. This is disgraceful and should be troubling to all of us, specially those invested in quality, independent-minded South African films.”
The film, entirely in isiKhosa has also been screened at many venues across South Africa, in Khayelitsha, Langa, East London and the Johannesburg city centre, since July 2017, and has also screened locally at the Durban International Film Festival, the Silwerskerm Film Festival and the Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. To enable discussion and debate, more than 35 screening events were hosted for Xhosa speaking groups, LGBTQI groups and other associations. “The film speaks for itself,” says Ribeiro. “A lot of the protest or boycott action seems to be driven by individuals who have not seen the film.”
The filmmakers have pointed out that the film is certainly not the first to provide a glimpse into initiation rituals. Former president Nelson Mandela, in his book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, describes at length and in detail his experience of becoming a Xhosa man. The ritual was also depicted in the feature film biopic of the same title distributed worldwide and produced by Anant Singh’s Videovision.
The filmmakers have also pointed out that the film is a work of fiction. All events and persons depicted in the film are fictitious, and any similarity to people living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The Film and Publications Board (FPB) has rated the film 16, advising that it contains scenes with strong language, Sex and nudity (16LSN). The FPB has advised that despite complaints that have been received based on cultural insensitivity, restricting the launch of the film would be a direct contrvention of Section 16 of the South African Constitution as well as the provisions of the Film and Publications Act No.96 of 1996 as amended.