Ayanda Sithebe, Athi Petela and Lala Tuku. Picture: Instagram.
Ayanda Sithebe, Athi Petela and Lala Tuku. Picture: Instagram.

'Trapped' director Athi Petela faces backlash for comments about not casting queer actors

By Jamal Grootboom Time of article published Apr 19, 2021

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Local filmmaker Athi Petela has received major backlash from the LGBTQI+ community after a video of her talking about not casting a queer actor in queer roles.

Over the weekend, a video of a Q&A session at the screening of Petela’s filmTrapped”, circulating on Twitter was criticised by the queer community with regards to several statements she made about casting queer people.

In the video, she is responding to a question on cisgender heterosexual people playing queer roles.

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

However, ”if you’re not good for the story, queer or not, you’re not getting it”.

She goes on to make a comparison with being given space in the film industry as a female director, even though there is a huge gender gap with directors, only based on her gender, but that she “needs to be great”.

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“.

Petela also mentions that she is queer, but that while she wants to see queer people on screen if “queer people aren’t working at being great“ she doesn’t know what must happen.

These comments didn’t sit well with many members of the LGBTQI+ community, with various Twitter users pointing out flaws in her statements.

“A joke my darling! By all means, let’s all ignore the fact that queer talent is often overlooked because of homophobia and because friends hire friends or friend referrals.

“The people yassing and cheering and a queer person sitting through this self-indulgent b*lls**t is just... ” said @MoEddie.

“There is a group of queers who ‒ for their own reasons are ’above’ queer politics ‒ they believe their queerness is not part I their professional/family/social lives,“ commented @BusisiweDeyi.

“This is a perfect example of people who are not trying to fight the system but are fighting for a place within the system.

“They won’t do anything to dismantle it and create space for others. They’d rather secure their spot and then gatekeep,” said @ElihleGwala.

“The ’exceptionalism syndrome’. They enjoy being the only queer person in the privileged spaces they frequent, and so they use their access to block the entry of other queer persons, lest their thunder is stolen.

“The issue is access, and she’s weaponsing it to exclude others,” commented @nathithema.

“I can’t believe she said ’yes there’s queer people existing out there’ like she is discussing mythology. She opened with invalidation and exclusion. Wow,“ said @Shezi_one.

“Saying ’I am queer’ to shield yourself from criticism for being anti-queer and doing things in your professional life that further exclude and marginalise queer people is so cynical.

“There are plenty of talented queer people, she just enjoys being the only queer in the room,” said @_theekword.

“Trapped” is a film by Athi Petela which follows the life of Ayanda whose double life comes crashing down around her when a surprise visit from her mother, played by Amanda Quwe, disrupts the carefully constructed closet she hides in.

Commenting on the film, Petela explained, “The film showcases the juxtaposition of how acceptance leads to true happiness, but self-rejection leads to sadness.

“In addition, the film challenges the norms as it addresses representation, diversity, queer love and duty through the lens of sexuality in South Africa.”

She added: “Gay and lesbian people in South Africa always become part of stories as opposed to being at the forefront of their own storytelling.

“The LGBTQI community deserves stories that they own and are told in their voices. This is my labour of love and offering to the LGBTQI community,” concluded Petela.

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