Dubbed the most-awarded South African film made, Inxeba (The Wound), is set to open in cinemas nationwide today.
Directed by John Trengove, co-produced between South Africa, Germany, The Netherlands and France and starring Nakhane and Bongile Mantsai, the movie made its debut at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
It explores sexuality and more specifically, same-sex desire, within the context of initiation schools.
Intended to open up necessary conversations about toxic masculinity, forbidden love and queerness, Inxeba instead caused controversy and received backlash from the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders and others who found it offensive.
“While there has been some backlash, there has also been overwhelming support from those who have seen the film and loved it. Unfortunately, the backlash is predominantly being led by people who have not seen the film and who have even refused to watch it when there has been opportunity for them to do so,” said producer and casting director Cait Pansegrouw.
She said the crew always knew that Inxeba was going to be a divisive film that people would be against.
“We have no problem with people not liking Inxeba, or being against it. However, if one wants to be critical of something, I believe it’s only fair to expect that criticism to come from an informed place so that the conversation can be balanced and complex.
“People’s preconceived ideas around the film have lead to some callous hate speech and even death threats, particularly targeted at the cast, which has not been easy to digest. My hope is that once Inxeba is released countrywide Friday (today), people will watch it and make up their own minds about it,” said Pansegrouw.
The film is set against the backdrop of the Xhosa rite of passage into manhood and was written by Trengove along with Thando Mgqolozana and Malusi Bengu, two Xhosa men who have undergone the ritual themselves.
“There is a preconceived notion that the film is based on or is exposing the ritual of ulwaluko,” Pansegrouw said.
“The film is a love story that is set against the backdrop of the Xhosa rite of passage into manhood, and much care was taken in not revealing anything that was not already in the public domain. This is not a documentary or an exposé, but a fictional story. The ritual makes up about 20% of the film. Mostly, it serves as the setting in which the love story takes place,” she added.
Nakhane, who made his debut to the film industry and who is the film’s lead, received three international awards for his portrayal of Xolani.
“The film has been shown all over the world, and every time we screen it, people are in awe of his performance. He is a true artist. Nakhane, along with everyone else on camera in Inxeba, gave fearlessly to the film. They were so generous in sharing their own experiences and really allowed this to inform their performances,” she said.
Pansegrouw said filming Inxeba was a very personal experience for all involved.
“Shooting the scenes with the large groups of men was completely electrifying and is something I will never forget. This film would not be what it is without the men who appeared in it. I am so proud and immensely grateful to them,” she said.
She said once the film was released to the public, it would open up conversations.
“It’s going to create a platform for some very layered conversations to take place, which was always our hope. South Africans who saw it at festivals or during its Oscars’ qualifying run last year have remarked that it’s unlike any other local film they have seen before. It’s certainly going to provide audiences with a unique experience, regardless of how they feel about the film,” she said.
About the film’s success, Pansegrouw said she and her producing partner, Elias Ribeiro, knew from the start that it was going to be very special.
“I think it’s fair to say that Inxeba has exceeded our expectations. It’s unlike anything you have seen and is now the most-awarded South African film made. It’s been an incredible journey with an exceptional team.
“What means the most to me is that its successes have allowed us to maintain momentum around urgent and necessary conversations about toxic masculinity, forbidden love and queerness. It has been inspiring to contribute to this global discourse,” she said.
* Inxeba (The Wound) will release nationwide today.