OPINION | Inxeba: What are we really angry about?

07 February 2018 - 11:28
Bongile Mantsai (left)plays Vija and Nakhane Toure (right) plays Xolani on Inxeba (The Wound)
Bongile Mantsai (left)plays Vija and Nakhane Toure (right) plays Xolani on Inxeba (The Wound)
Image: Supplied

According to African culture, I am one of the people who should not have an opinion on the anger or lack thereof that the controversial film Inxeba (The Wound) has fuelled in the last few months. But here goes...

Just as the film makers had three challenges they predicted before embarking on the mission to tell a love story in an “unpopular context”, I go into this opinion piece with three things I know will raise problems with other people.

I am a black woman. I am a born-free. I am NOT Xhosa.

With that in mind, I also want to immediately let you know that the ground I stand on as I write this is quite wobbly, only because I have heard many arguments pro and anti Inxeba and in an attempt to form my own opinion, I have thought about most of them and how they make me feel. And, it’s complicated.

In case you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea what the commotion is about, here’s a summary.

The film, which tells the story of a gay factory worker who travels to the rural Eastern Cape to oversee the Xhosa initiation process only to have his secret discovered by one defiant initiate, has split the nation (and especially the Xhosa nation) into two camps.

Speaking during  a Q&A session at a pre-screening hosted by TshisaLIVE, co-writer Malusi Bengu said they were prepared to face challenges because of three main factors of the film: The film’s set is a Xhosa initiation, something that is considered sacred in most African cultures. The love story being told is that of gay men, and the producers (and some key crew members) are not Xhosa or African.

While the film has scooped over 19 international awards, it has angered many and sparked debates over the inclusion of the Xhosa initiation ceremony in the film, labelling it an "unnecessary" inclusion. 

I beg to differ and believe that the real problem is being covered up.

By now, I don’t have to explain the different views that have been shared about the film, but I want to mention some of the quotes from social media that have stayed with me.

Team anti-Inxeba:

“Watching that film was like watching my parents have sex!”

“By virtue of being born into the Xhosa culture, I have agreed not to reveal these secrets. It’s our way and ours is not ask why they are kept sacred.”

“We’re giving the world ammunition against Africans. Now they (Western people) can judge us because they know us. But we can’t (judge them) because what exactly do we know about their sacred rituals? Nothing.”

Team pro-Inxeba:

“I hope we get to talk about other controversial African issues that have hurt many people in silence. Maybe after this we can address issues like how albinism is perceived in our African cultures.”

“It’s not going to be comfortable to watch, but it’s our story nonetheless.”

“If we don’t talk about these issues, nothing will ever change.”

These are just a few of the comments in the raging debate that has dominated social media since the film's SA release last Friday. 

But do you see the pattern? A big chunk of the issue is being ignored.

Everyone keeps pretending like the gay aspect of the story is not a factor in the massive anger, which has seen movie houses shut its doors amid protests and threats of violence. Maybe people are scared of being perceived as homophobes or want to be politically correct?

The truth is, we’ve already had our "big protest moments over films violating the secrecy of initiation rituals". Remember the SABC drama Umtunzi Wentaba back in 2007?

Or why don’t we talk about how Nelson Mandela’s version of events of the Xhosa initiation in his book Long Walk to Freedom didn’t make headlines?

I mean with all the issues South Africans can schedule time to protest for, Inxeba shouldn’t even make the top five. 

I believe the real reason is the gay love story.  Gays. Homosexuals. That’s the real issue here.

Side note: It is at this point that I wish to reiterate that I am #TeamInxeba,  I love and continuously seek to understand more about people in the LGBTQI community.

Now, back to the problem.

Because our culture doesn’t accept homosexuals, we can’t (for the life of us) see gay people going to initiation schools. I am not talking about whether or not they have sex there because I wouldn’t know.

Personally, the first sex scene in the movie threw me off… and this means something because I have watched 50 Shades of Grey.

The first few seconds I had to close my eyes and remind myself that although I’ve never seen it, men have sex and it’s okay. Up until this point in my entire existence, the most intimate I've seen gay men on television was Senzo and Jason’s kissing scenes on Generations. 

I’ve never asked why I don’t see them or why the LGBTQ community is only represented in a certain way - the flamboyant gay or the butch lesbian.

It’s like someone said, "okay… Africans are not okay with homosexuality so we’ll ease them into it. We’ll introduce a certain type of gay then we’ll take it from there.”

So the real problem here is that Inxeba showed us that an African man can come in different shades.

There was Vija, a typical, masculine family guy living a double life, Xolani a factory worker who suffered because he couldn't express himself and Kwanda, a new age homosexual who was seen as too soft and was taken to the mountain to be “hardened”.

These three men represent many like them, who are gay and have to suffer for it across Africa.

And, as a cherry on top, they may be subjected to going to an initiation school, which from what we’ve seen (even before Inxeba) is not a very accepting environment.

I bet, if the love story was between a boy and a village girl, even if the boy was at the mountain, the reaction wouldn’t have been as extreme.

Now, this film has forced us to conceptualise a reality where a homosexual man or woman can exist in any context. It doesn’t matter if they are at church, at the mountain or in Parliament. It also means nothing to me whether they’re extreme or subtle in their existence, but the point is they do.

Yes, the gay love story could have been told anywhere else, but the point is would it have forced you to confront the hidden, society-built homophobe in you?