‘Inxeba wounds our cultural practice’

The world-renowned film Inxeba follows the story of isiXhosa initiates while also dealing with queer love — fuelling criticism of the film for misrepresenting the cultural rite of passage

The world-renowned film Inxeba follows the story of isiXhosa initiates while also dealing with queer love — fuelling criticism of the film for misrepresenting the cultural rite of passage

A gay love story set in an initiation school was bound to ruffle feathers.

In the days before the opening night of the movie Inxeba (The Wound), the Man and Boy Foundation and the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa), made a last-ditch effort to block the film from being shown — mobilising their members to stage sit-ins until their demands were met.

Last Friday, one week before the national release date, about 30 people held a sit-in at the Braamfontein offices of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission).

Speaking to the group, foundation executive director Nkululeko Nxesi said the organisations are protesting “the misrepresentation of the practice of initiation”.
Their objections include episodes of Rhythm City and the album artwork of Die Antwoord’s 2016 album, Mount Ninji and da Nice Time Kid. But “the main reason [we are here] is the screening of Inxeba”.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, Nxesi says: “We had a protest at the commission’s office a few weeks ago to have them block the screening of this movie. We see it as an onslaught on our culture.”

Addressing the men, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, the rights commission’s chairperson, says: “You’re swimming upstream here. The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and does not allow for the banning of a movie. In apartheid days, so many things were banned.

“People are saying you are opposing the movie because of homophobia. What we need to get is an understanding that this not about gay people, but about misrepresentation of the culture. It is a fact that gay people are everywhere. They have a right to live their lives. It’s got nothing to with the objections, I hope,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva adds.

Both the foundation and Contralesa deny being motivated by homophobia.

“It is a misrepresentation of what happens in initiation schools, depicting things that don’t happen actually there,” says Nxesi.

“Traditional initiation schools are sacred spaces — not a space for sexual activity, regardless of whether it is homosexual sex or not. Others are against Inxeba because of the homosexuality but that argument fuels homophobia, which is quite dangerous. It is fuelling hatred. Our line of argument is not that. Our view is that, even sex between a married couple cannot happen there, because it is a sacred space,” says Nxesi.

Contralesa’s Prince Manene Tabane says the film’s gay content “is not our main thing”.

“If people do that thing, they can do it somewhere else — not within our cultural practice. It doesn’t happen in initiation schools. This is ridiculing our cultural practice. We are being embarrassed. The things that are being shown there is not what is happening in the mountain. It is disgusting and disrespectful of our cultural practices. People making love in an initiation school is not something we see,” he says.

Contralesa and the foundation have approached the Film and Publications Board (FPB), which has given the film a 16 SNL classification, to ask that it be given a no under-18 classification. They also want a disclaimer stating that the movie is “not a true reflection of what happens in initiation schools” and that it’s subtitles be re-translated from isiXhosa to accurately reflect in English the vulgarity of some of the language used.

After a meeting with the FPB was cancelled on Tuesday, Contralesa and foundation members — this time numbering less than 20 — sat in at the FPB’s Centurion offices to protest against the “misinformation and misrepresentation [which aims] to discredit not only this practice but black African people [as a whole]”.

Abongile Mashele, the FPB’s acting chief operations officer, says: “We met them today and informed [them] that, within the limitations of the Constitution and the Film and Publications Act, we cannot restrict movies from being screened.”

Mashele added that FPB could also not change its classification decisions because this could only be done by the body’s appeals tribunal.

“We are not happy with this response,” Nxesi says, adding that the organisations would be approaching “both Ster-Kinekor and Nu Metro to ask them not to play this movie”.

Through the #BoycottInxeba, #NoToInxeba and #BurnInxeba social media campaigns, people opposed to the screening of the movie are being called on to make their presence felt at cinemas.

Nxesi says: “Our intention is not to instigate violence. We want to communicate that this movie is violating the cultural rights of indigenous communities of South Africa. We will educate people and plead with them not to see the movie because it is explicit and not fit for public consumption.”

Two days before it’s national release, at a special screening held in Johannesburg’s Killarney Mall, Batana Vundla, the film’s executive producer seems unaware of the recent uproar.

“Shit, I didn’t know,” he says of the moves to quash the film’s screening. “I’ve been offline for the past week.

“But this thing of ‘protecting of culture’ is really just a ruse to cover up homophobia. They will say these things don’t happen in initiation schools, but we’ve worked with Xhosa men who have been to the bush and they have guided us. Over the five years it took to make this film, we had hundreds of conversations with men. We didn’t imagine these things. We know these things happen,” he says.

“We made a point to honour the sacredness of initiation, its relevance and its importance. We approached it with the reverence and sanctity it deserves. This was not something that was done to insult anybody. But it is our right as artists to depict different modes of blackness and masculinity in society today. This is not a send-up of anyone’s culture,” he adds.

The screening is filled with some of Jozi’s hipster set, one of whom is being interviewed by a film crew.

“This movie is teaching people about Xhosa culture. It’s expanding the knowledge on initiation,” he says, adding that the thing he is most looking forward to is “the kissing scenes”.

Helen Kuun, the managing director of the film’s distributor, Indigenous Film Distribution, says that, whatever the reason for people choosing to see the movie — or not — “the film will speak for itself”.

“Each film is unique in its own way and will have a group of people that like it or dislike it. This presumably will remain the case for Inxeba as it for every film.”

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian 

Carl Collison

Carl Collison

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian. He has contributed to a range of local and international publications, covering social justice issues as well as art and is committed to defending and advancing the human rights of the LGBTI community in Southern Africa. Read more from Carl Collison

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