To: The Film
and Publication Board of South Africa
As a coloured queer man I was deeply disturbed that the film Inxeba (The Wound) was reclassified to a rating of X18 for strong "pornographic" content as well as “perceived cultural insensitivity and distortion of the Xhosa Circumcision tradition (Ulwaluko)”. There are several problems with this line of argument.
Labeling something as pornographic is tantamount to calling it "obscene" "crude" or even "lewd". Watching the film, I see no scenes that depict such obscenity. Every scene in which intercourse occurs is only suggested and never fully exposed. To suggest that two males having discreet intercourse on screen is obscene sets a dangerous precedent in a country whose constitution prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In addition, labeling the movie pornographic is a direct insult to the LGBTQ community of South Africa whose stories, like everyone else's, need to be told. I find it quite ironic that films like Fifty Shades of Grey—a film bordering on the pornographic depicting white people having BDSM sex— are able to pass the censorship board but when writers and directors want to tell LGBTQ South African stories then this is relegated to the obscene. The lack of consistency and the blatant support of a heteronormative society is (in all honesty) deeply offensive.
From the beginning of the film it appears that the Xhosa initiation rite is an integral, male-grooming cultural process where caregivers bring up young initiates into their manhood—a similar male-grooming, cultural process that can be observed in many great civilizations like the Ancient Greeks for example. I do feel that the film pays attention to that sense of brotherhood while still attempting to make a clear distinction between the initiation rite itself and a queer man’s experience of that initiation rite. It is in this distinction between individual experience and tradition that the film begins to move towards arguing for a broader conception of African masculinity. In my personal capacity the film has enlightened me on the vital cultural processes that the Xhosa culture has in place in order to bring young boys up as men. Moreover—as a cultural artefact— the film calls viewers to engage in a dialogue with it that is important for South African communities. Notions of masculinity within traditional structures of culture need to be discussed and critiqued in South Africa if cultures are to be reinvigorated and renewed to include LGBTQ identities. To exclude these identities on the basis of them being “unAfrican” is an old and tired argument that plays into the hands of European Christian colonizers who came to Christianize the African continent. What I mean by this is that the notion of queer identity as “unAfrican” is a myth: there have been countless instances of queer life in Africa before colonialism and I urge those who are interested in the topic to do the research themselves.
Though cultural sensitivity is important we cannot place all cultures and traditions beyond the pale of criticism and exploration. To do this would limit us as a rigorous democratic society engaged in fostering a nation that is accepting of diversity in all its hues and orientations. Culture and tradition are important structures that ground and guide society but we must be mindful of oppressive patriarchal ideologies that hide behind culture and tradition in order to enforce a fragile fabric of heteronormative morality. In a country like South Africa where women are raped, abused and oppressed excessively (and where men have died or been seriously hurt during these initiation rites) it must be the task of cultural artefacts like Inxeba to question traditional notions of masculinity and how these ideologies guide embedded thinking around what it means to be a man and how a man should love another man or woman.
Where some people see prejudice and cultural denigration, I see a film that uncovers the homoerotic love and support existing between African, Xhosa men. The Wound is much more than a film depicting a Xhosa initiation ceremony. In the interactions of Xolani and Vija we as viewers see two men who have been warped under the expectations that traditional ideas of masculinity have heaped upon them. Inxeba is—therefore— about men attempting to help heal each other from a deeper, more substantial, wound: the wound of what society dictates a man should be.
The banning of this film sets a dangerous precedent for LGBTQ stories in Africa as well as cultural artefacts that critique and interrogate tradition and culture. There is nothing wrong with cultural debate, but the censorship of art is a perilous road that silences the stories of Africa that most desperately need to be told. I emphatically beseech the tribunal to reconsider their decision and unban Inxeba (The Wound).
Jarred James Thompson