Nakhane Touré plays Xolani in Inxeba (The Wound), which won big at the recent Saftas despite controversy over its portrayal of the Xhosa rite of circumcision. picture: supplied

Why has a film that holds important lessons for South Africans been banned?

The award-winning film, Inxeba (The Wound), has been reclassified by South Africa’s Film and Publication Board. This means it is illegal and a criminal offence to view or screen it anywhere, on any platform, either free or paid for.

I have seen the film and wondered what the responses to it say about South Africa’s inability to imagine homosexual men as fellow cultural beings. It would be dangerously naïve to expect that a film like Inxeba would pass undisturbed. In a country where violence and abuse towards members of LGBTQI communities is deadeningly routine, to be taken aback at the outrage is disingenuous.

We went to watch Inxeba a week after angry men had disrupted viewingsat cinemas in parts of the country. They had, with a rage that was puzzling and blunt, stormed theatres, especially in the Eastern Cape region. They had sent ugly threats to Nakhane Toure, the film’s main actor. The Zulu monarch had declared, in vinegary terms, his disapproval of the film. He was quickly followed by other traditional leaders.

We watched the film in an empty cinema. I wondered if the emptiness was a result of people fearing that they would be assaulted, or because nobody cared to watch a film that had been noisily dismissed as a disrespectful gay sex romp.

Chorus of heterosexual black men

In the days that followed, I watched as conversations around the film played out in public spaces and on social media. It was a chorus of mostly heterosexual black men who filled various social media corners with the song of their hurt. They performed their dismay, and they made clear their disbelief that such a film was being put out into the world and that nobody was doing anything to stop it.

In the tenor of their anger, it was easy to discern fear – the fear that one of the foundational sites of black male subjectivity was being symbolically castrated through its proximity to homosexuality.

Their reaction reflected their deep discomfort with the notion that something so intrinsically a part of their specific cultural economy could be treated as a narrative – that is something which they do not have singular ownership over.

The Conversation

Wamuwi Mbao is a lecturer in English Literatures, Stellenbosch University

The Conversation