Since news of the film Inxeba first broke, there has been bubbling discontent online but in the lead up to the film's theatrical release a small group of individuals have launched online attacks and threats directed at the cast and crew of the film via social media.
Inxeba (The Wound) stars musician and novelist Nakhane Touré as Xolani, a lonely factory worker who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. The story focuses on the complex relationship between traditional patriarchy and LGBTQ identity.
According to the film's cast and crew, much of the outrage stems from the fact that the film centres on Xhosa initiation rites which are traditionally supposed to only be known to those who have taken part in them and not by "outsiders" and women. The Inxeba team also believes that part of the outrage is fueled by homophobia.
“We view these inexcusable threats in a serious light, and we will be taking appropriate action against any individual who threatens violence or commits homophobic hate crimes,” said producer Cait Pansegrouw, of Urucu Media in a statement.
“Inxeba" has attracted much interest from the South African public, many of whom are eagerly anticipating its local release. From the feedback we receive daily on the film’s Facebook page, it is clear that the people attempting to shut the film down are speaking on behalf of a minority, and do not represent the ‘entire Xhosa nation’ as they claim,” added Pansegrouw.
According to the statement issued on behalf of the cast and crew, 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.
In ‘A Man Who Is Not a Man’, written by Thando Mgqolozana, a co-writer on ‘Inxeba’, the controversial topic of botched traditional circumcisions is covered, with the story recounting the personal trauma of a young Xhosa initiate after a rite-of-passage circumcision has gone wrong. Mgqolozana decodes the values and mysteries of this deep-seated cultural tradition and calls to account the elders for the disintegrating support systems that allow such tragic outcomes to happen.
“Where are the Xhosa cries when young boys die,” asks another of the film’s co-writers Malusi Bengu. “Where is the passion and outrage when young boys are butchered for money by chance-takers?”
In fact, those who are worried about secret initiation traditions being exposed to the world need not worry.
“There are a number of genuinely concerned Xhosa South Africans who are perturbed at the thought that the secret tradition of Ulwaluko has been cast open for the whole world to see. Rest assured, that has not happened. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. How some people have come to this conclusion from watching a trailer speaks volumes about the levels of ignorance at play here. If anything, through the constructive dialogue brought about by the film, initiation as a traditional practice and its role in society has been strengthened by ‘Inxeba’. I want to stress that no secrets were revealed,” said the film's co-producer Batana Vundla.
On the receiving end of many of these threats is musician and actor Nakhane Touré, who plays the lead in the film.
“People have jumped to conclusions about a film they haven't even seen. I speak as a Xhosa man who has been to initiation, and who is proud to have done so, when I say that no secrets are revealed. What is being revealed instead, is a violent homophobia. Those issuing threats are nowhere to be seen when Xhosa initiates are sexually assaulted during initiation. Where are you madoda when babies are raped in our communities? Where is your anger when women are raped and murdered? The answer is nowhere. Instead, you choose to attack an important and insightful film that I do not for a single moment regret being part of,” said Touré.
Another one of the film's stars, Niza Jay, feels that the outrage surrounding the film points to the urgent need for us to find better ways of raising men and for men to come up with healthy, realistic ways of relating to one another.
"I maintain that anyone who makes a final judgement about the film without watching it needs to re-evaluate how they form opinions; it is dangerous and irresponsible to interact with a film – or any other contemporary issue – in this disturbingly aggressive manner. It is also disappointing that so many young people are not realising the opportunity for positive conversation and action, which could be initiated by ‘Inxeba’. It's even more troubling to see them encouraging the silencing and violent erasure of discourse that is offered by the film. To anyone who thinks you have a right to harass and threaten another human being, I say that highlights just how unsafe our society is at present,” said Jay.
The filmmakers are inviting interested individuals to watch the film and will be engaging with the appropriate stakeholders and representatives over the next few weeks to inform the debate.
Main image credit: facebook.com/nakhaneofficial