DISCLAIMER: POSSIBLE SPOILERS!!
I knew about Inxeba: The Wound long before I even watched the film. I’ve been quite verbal about my feelings towards it and the banning/the censorship on my Socials. I watched the film yesterday on Putlocker, since I couldn’t afford to go to the cinema and show solidarity. This is my two cents’ worth. There has never been a more talked about production such as this in the history of South African film and cinema. I do stand to be corrected.
My decision to review the film wasn’t my own, to be quite honest. I love controversy, my very being is a controversy to both myself and those around me. However I feared for myself and a possible career I hope to create from my writing, because well, writing something – anything – on this film could either make or break this little blog of mine.
Tell you what, please go watch the film. I will leave possible links that will lead you to sites on line where you can stream the film. It is magic, and I will not be talking about the Xhosa culture much, because it is a highly sensitive topic and as usual, topics that lead to conflict often need one to be politically correct, and I am not Xhosa – I would not want to be caught dead arguing with someone about their culture. I mean, surely the culture does not have to overshadow the fact that this is a great film. While yes, the culture of ulwaluko may be at the epicentre of this story, it is a story nonetheless about two men who are in love and have to navigate their feelings towards one another and their sexual insecurities in a hypermasculine setting.
Written by John Trengove, Thando Mgqolozana and Malusi Bhengu, Inxeba serves as Trengove’s directorial debut and quite a great one at that, having cemented him in the grasps of history when it comes to thought-provoking storytelling. The film gave me similar feels as when I first watched Brokeback Mountain. The fact that they both are set in a mountain and are about two men who fall in love and have to question what they knew and understood to be masculinity is beyond me.
Released in South African cinemas on the 2nd of February, the film tells the story of factory worker, Xolani Radebe (played by the magnificent Nakhane Mavuso, previously known as Toure) who returns to his home in the Eastern Cape to assist the men of his village with overseeing the initiation customs in the mountains. While there Xolani has to look after a rather defiant young initiate from the city, Kwanda (played by Niza Jay Ncoyini), who is in every sense of the word MY SPIRIT ANIMAL!! While Kwanda at times proves to be quite antagonistic to the pending love that is shown to exist between Xolani and another mentor by the name of Vija, it is people like him that ought to be given the shine for being the mouthpieces that would later work to dismantle this vile societal creature known as patriarchy.
Within the first fifteen minutes it becomes obvious that there is a connection between Vija and Xolani, at first not so spoken of. And that is what I loved the most. This connection that the two have becomes established in the littlest of ways, from the smiles, the looks, and the not so subtle sexual scenes. That first sex scene, HOT! Left me all hard and bothered. In this hypermasculine space, two men who each have formulated their own understanding of what it means to be a man and have grown to actually embody the teachings of the talks they were given during their own time in the mountain, it becomes obvious that the two of them are just as much victims of patriarchy as the next person who shall be initiated, as Brett Pardy states that the two men have subsequently grown into their roles and understood that sometimes it is not always about being dominant, but rather submitting themselves to ‘a patriarchal model that demands heterosexuality.’ Vija represents the man’s man, a manly man, it is shown in how he carries himself, married with kids – probably the type that prefers his wife seen and not heard. Whereas Xolani may appear to be on the fence. What do I mean by ‘on the fence’, I don’t know. To be quite honest, I do not relate in the bit with either Xolani or Vija in any sense, if not for the fact that being Queer is a constant fight, especially when our loves are tested. I will get more in depth with this when I conclude this and link up to the ending. Gosh, that ending.
Throughout the whole film I had my hand on my mouth with shock and worry. Mind you, I was in the computer labs on campus, so with everything happening around me, there was also this load of WHOA! What stood out for me the most was Kwanda’s fighting spirit and sense of agency, and I speak for myself when I say that he made the film what it was for me with his questioning and defiant nature. He is the one person who sees Vija and Xolani for what they truly are.
Ndiyak’bona uk’ba uyintoni. Kutheni wena ungafuni ukuyivuma lonto? – Niza Jay Ncoyini as Kwanda
He has this fire that many Queer teenagers forced to submit to oppressive traditions do not possess, and does not show any sign – from the get-go – of ever wanting to conform. Such passion and rebellion is taken to the next level when he makes this tradition his own, seeing how he may have failed at beating the system he then can bend it to his worth when he wears that nose ring. We all have our own ways of rebelling, some bolder than others. I still relay how I wish, even in the slightest of ways, that I had Kwanda’s fighting power, that voice and un-defeatist power.
Taking away all that nudity, the violent language and homophobia, despite it all, the bullshit and patriarchy, and hypermasculinity, I genuinely believe that Vija loved Xolani. I mean, Xolani may want companionship. He wants Vija to want him, too. To fight for him – to be in love with him so much that he defies it all, to risk it all. Isn’t that what everyone else wants, to be honest?
A silhouette of Vija, played by Bongile Mantsai. Photo from IMDb
Even before it started showing in South Africa, Inxeba was already a vastly spoken about topic – there have been marches, it continues to trend on Socials, and it has been banned in many cinemas across the country and the Eastern Cape does not even want a whisper of it. I watched an interview last night from ANN7 whereby the writers of the film, Malusi Bhengu and John Trengove, were in a panel with some representatives from conservative groups that are against the film – to say the least, Malusi did not get much word out with the guy next to him quick to point out that the film is disrespectful and portrays the Xhosa culture in a negative way. He later goes on to add that he has nothing against the Queer community – which baffles me. Would the film be as offensive to people if it had been a heterosexual love story? For me, I feel as though all this Hu-ha would not even exist had it not been for the fact that the film is Queer and in that Queer space is the Xhosa culture of initiation, which judging by all the noise is supposedly exclusive of Queer people. It makes them feel as though by the fact that Vija, an Alpha masculine man, has sex WHILE IN THE MOUNTAINS with another man, is dismissive of the fact that by going to the mountain one comes back a man – that Queer men are not men. That could be what they are taught there that they hopelessly wish to hang on to. We honestly shouldn’t allow men, or whomever is against the film for whatever reason, to censor us and dictate what we should and shouldn’t watch. My two cents, don’t judge me.
The highlights for me, where Kwanda is concerned, was when he refused to speak. And when he almost – might have – dismantled all that they may have been taught to be manhood and entitlement on that mountain when he confronted Zuko about what his Father could be getting up to – that he disappears for a week, sleeps around and when he does decide to come home he expects to have food waiting on the table, with his wife smiling as she tends to his needs. Zuko is an archetypal entitled piece of shit. Moreover, the Xhosa culture, while on that mountain, does not acknowledge Queerness, not does it defend against homo/Queerphobia – in fact, they do not even show any signs of confronting it. Which was rather funny because one of the panelists, a Mr. Azania Matiwane, reckoned that it ought to be the Queer/LGBT community that condemns this film because it will endanger our lives. Whether a threat or a voice of concern, I feel as though representation of Queer people should not bother people so much. We are humans, too.
In conclusion, that ending. Jesus Christ, that ending. I might ruin the film for many people who haven’t watched it by embedding the video I got off YouTube of the ending – and I apologise. It is a necessary evil.
As already stated, I do not feel compassion for people like Vija, except the fact that he might be Queer and is trapped in that systemic oppression at the hands of society and how he feels they will view him. Vija attacking Zuko and forcing him to apologise to Xolani could either be the most spontaneously romantic and daring thing ever, or the most dumbest, I don’t care. That part is *SNAPS* for me. After a very heated love making session in the river under the love of the waterfall, Vija and Xolani pass out and Kwanda sees them. Feeling disrespected and afraid of what Kwanda might say, Vija runs after him, setting the film towards a climactic ending. Dear Vija, would you rather choose satisfying other people’s perception of you as opposed to living your life the way you wish to?
The film may have sparked outrage, but the fact remains that it is by far an authentic portrayal of how most people feel when it comes to love and sexual desires in a masculine and/or hypermasculine setting, and the way that the majority of people reacted to it without having even seen the film in the first place goes to show just how films like this are needed to start a conversation.
I was really conflicted between embedding the YouTube video of the ending to the film and not doing so. I feel as though I have already divulged so many spoilers, and I sincerely apologise for such a passionate review. I hope that you find the film as fulfilling as I did – ey, but that ending.