Athi Petela. Picture: Supplied
Athi Petela. Picture: Supplied

Filmmaker Athi Petela apologises to LGBTQI+ community for controversial statements

By Kedibone Modise Time of article published Apr 22, 2021

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The director of the new queer film “Trapped” Athi Petala admits that she may have used a wrong tone in her recent statements about not casting queer actors in queer roles.

Petela got a lot of flak from the LGBTQI+ community after a video clip of her responding to a question on cisgender heterosexual actors, playing queer roles, started making rounds on social media, over the weekend.

In the video, Petela starts by explaining that she is “finicky” and “particular“ about her art and acknowledges that queer people exist in the creative space.

“If you’re not good for the story, queer or not, you’re not getting it”, said Petela.

She added that “if you’re not great then there’s just not great work on your art ... Don’t come at us with those condescending things of you could’ve cast a queer person, well you could’ve been great“.

Setting the record straight, Petela told IOL Entertainment she’s sorry her comments hurt so many people.

“I’m really sad at how the clips were interpreted. At the same time, I understand. Also watching it now, I realised that the tone sounded like that’s what I was saying,” says Petela.

She adds: “People were angry, rightfully so. So how do you put out a fire when it’s burning without looking like, you're saying, ‘you're wrong for thinking like that’. But that's not at all what I meant.

She further explains what she meant in her previous statements.

She said: “If everybody comes forth to an audition for a queer role, I will probably take the person who embodies the character and does justice to the character, if they are queer, even better for me, because it's a blessing, ideally, that is exactly what I would want.

“So I was just basically saying, it's a tricky one because, at the end of the day, you want to honour the character that you've written. And by that, I mean in performance, and if the person who does that is queer, you’ve won.”

She went on to apologise to LGBTQI, but she also took the opportunity to clarify that she cast more than 80% of queer actors in her film.

“I'm so sorry, that my statements hurt so many people. As a queer person I have created a queer film, I wanted to cast queer characters in a film that is a representation of queerness and that's exactly what I did.

“I've got Thishiwe Ziqubu, I’ve got Thami Dish, deliberately because they are queer and I am telling a queer story,” adds Petela.

Petela says that she’s glad her comments sparked the much-needed conversation about the representation of queer bodies on screen.

“I suppose it is a conversation that we weren’t having enough to say that ‘straight people are being cast for queer roles, why? What can we do to make sure that a lot more queer people come to the fore and tell their own stories?”

Trapped is a short film that explores the important themes of transformation and inclusivity.

The film premiered on SABC1 on Sunday, April 18.

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