Xolani and Vija, two of the characters in local film, The Wound, which looks at the Xhosa initiation ritual. Picture: Supplied
Johannesburg - John Trengrove’s film The Wound has come under fire from local traditional leaders who have described it as an “exploitation of the Xhosa initiation ritual”.

Last month, the movie, which explores circumcision and homosexuality, made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, to critical acclaim.

But at home, The Wound was labelled “disrespectful and undermining to the Xhosa culture”.

“I don’t believe there is anything exploitative or exposing about the culture in the film,” Trengove told the Saturday Star.

The film, depicting a gay factory worker who travels from the city to the Eastern Cape to be circumcised in a traditional rites-of-passage ceremony, recently premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in the US. It takes audiences into the experience of initiates.

But local traditional leaders were outraged at the film’s trailer.

The Embo Initiation Council of Langa said it was deeply offended by the contents of the film and would raise the issue with relevant authorities.

But Trengove said he wasn’t the least bit surprised by the criticism.

He said he has been bracing himself for public outcry since production began.

“We knew there would be strong reactions from traditionalists. But there was also a lot of encouragement from a younger Xhosa gene- ration who seemed eager to break the silence around the initiation,” he said.

“It’s a vast and very nuanced practice, and there remains a lot to be said about the ritual that is not my place to talk about, things that need to be said from within the culture.

“Hopefully The Wound could spark some of that,” he said.

The Wound is inspired by the novel A Man Who Is Not a Man by Thando Mgqolozana and its screenplay was co-written by Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu and Trengove.

The film features musician Nakhane Toure as the lead actor.

Trengove said the idea for the film had been born out of a desire to push back against cliched stereotypes of black masculinity perpetuated inside and outside of African cinema.

“I was interested in what happens when groups of men come together and organise themselves outside of society.

“As an outsider, it was important that I approach this story from the perspective of characters who are themselves outsiders, who struggle to conform to the status quo that they are a part of.”

Trengove added that the production team had spent several months in the Eastern Cape doing research for the movie.

“We listened to many testi- monials and conversations with Xhosa men who had been through the ritual. Gay men, straight men, some urbanised and affluent, others from remote rural areas.

“These stories sparked our earliest ideas about the narrative. Researching the ritual brought up conflicting feelings in me.

“You hear stories about how it can be a breeding ground for homophobic and hypermasculine behaviour.

“At the same time I got to see first-hand the transformative effect it had on some men who went through it.”

He said that all the roles including speaking extras in the film had to be first-language Xhosa men who had their own first-hand experience of the ritual.

“The only exception to this was Niza Jay Ncoyini who plays Kwanda, which made sense because his character challenges and defies the ritual.”

“The larger community of Xhosa men and elders in the film are all non-actors. We asked them to perform the different aspects of the ritual as they would do it, and to react to the rehearsed scenarios in any way they felt was right,” he said.

“If they didn’t approve of a character’s behaviour, they would say so during takes. Sometimes we wouldn’t call cut and scenes would just carry on and we’d be rolling as these men were offering up the most incredible material, completely unscripted.”

The Wound will have its local premiere at the Durban International Film Festival in June.

Saturday Star