By the time I had the opportunity to watch Inxeba (The Wound), I’d been exposed to some criticism against it, particularly by men who felt that it was stepping into the restricted territory of male circumcision.
One particular comment was that it “bastardised culture in an effort to make money”.
Once I watched it, I realised that some of the fear and panic had been somewhat warranted - especially because male initiation is inextricable to the storyline.
I saw Inxeba as telling the story of Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), a young city boy who is sent up to the mountains to become initiated. His mentor and caregiver Xolani (Nakhane) is selected because he has the temperament to deal with “city initiates”, known to be “softer” than their country counterparts.
Kwanda’s complete rejection and questioning of some age-old customs leads to a shaking up of the entire gathering and inadvertently forces Xolani to confront some of his demons. Needless to say, not everything ends well for Kwanda.
One of the aspects that stood out for me was Inxeba’s authenticity. This is no surprise, especially since the film’s scriptwriters included the acclaimed Thando Mgqolozana, whose first novel, A Man Who Is Not A Man, focused on the subject of initiation.
However, in the production notes, director John Trengrove explained how, aside from the primary cast members (those listed above), the extras were not actors, but men who had had first-hand experience of the ritual itself and would, during scenes, speak out if they felt that these were not being true to what occurs on the mountain.
The performances of Nakhane and Ncoyini had an authenticity about them that left me wanting to know more about their lives and who they had been before fate saw fit to push them together for this ritual.
I was particularly impressed with Bongile Mantsai’s portrayal of Vija. Mantsai is an established thespian, but this was the first time I’d seen him on screen. He was a dream to watch, with the right amount of energy and intensity to bring this conflicted character to life.
The movie is shot in a way that all scenes featuring what I imagine to be actual initiation rites are presented tastefully. When the ingcibi (traditional surgeon) makes the cut, the film presents a raised, side view of umkhwetha (the initiate).
There’s a scene where Xolani, the ikhankatha (the caregiver), is dressing Kwanda’s wound. We only see their faces and are left to imagine what happens below.
The themes running through Inxeba include those of divided loyalty, sexuality and homosexuality, tradition and the evolution thereof, love, family and contesting traditional ideas around masculinity.
I wanted to cry at various points for Xolani and his complicated relationship with Vija - and for Vija, with his conflicted self, his closeted relationship with Xolani, and his need to offset this by portraying this brutally masculine, man’s man.
The interaction between the three black men opens up a path to conversations that ask: What is a man? How are men expected to behave? Who decides that? Is a homosexual man less of a man than, say, heterosexual or bisexual men? What is the response of traditional systems - such as initiation - to homosexuality?
I was told by a colleague that the film contained elements similar to the 2005 movie, Brokeback Mountain, which sparked large amounts of controversy and praise alike.