After seeing the film, members of the Gay & Lesbian Network (GLN) say threats against the controversial Inxeba (The Wound) are unjustified, hateful and misdirected.
The film was shown at the opening of the Durban Gay & Lesbian Film Festival last week. It has led to calls by amaXhosa king Zwelonke Sigcawu for it to be banned because of its exploration of masculinity and homosexuality and also for its depiction of sacred male initiation rites.
Anthony Waldhausen, the director and founder of the Pietermaritzburg-based GLN, noted that the film doesn’t primarily focus on the Xhosa culture but rather the difficulties faced by some men who are attracted to other men and the struggles they face within the culture.
The internationally acclaimed Inxeba tells the story of Xolani, a lonely closeted Xhosa factory worker who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood.
Waldhausen fears that most of the people who are speaking out against the film probably haven’t seen it, and if this is the case, he urges them to watch it before jumping to conclusions about what it is trying to portray.
Abongile Matyila, a GLN research staff member who is Xhosa himself, agrees. He believes that people are getting ready to fight before they understand what the war is about.
He noted that the initiation ritual shown in film has been kept secret to preserve the nature and sanctity of the Xhosa culture, a tradition that’s been in place for hundreds of years.
“However, at the same time, there needs to be a space for people to express their sexual identity,” said Matyila. “The film does a lovely job in this as it shows that not all gay men are out and proud, and that there are other ways in which one can express their sexuality.
“This also plays into the themes of respect and caring for each other as men. It challenges the traditional idea of what masculinity is supposed to be and how, due to constraints from society, these lovers have been able to find a safe space in which to express their feelings for each other,” explained Matyila.
He added that the story does not portray too much of the sacred ritual and that its focus is on the complex intersectionality between culture and identity.
Waldhausen is particularly concerned that Inxeba’s openly gay lead actor, Nakhane Touré, has received death threats over social media and recently had to cancel a trip to the Eastern Cape due to fearing for his life and safety.
“He is just an actor portraying a reality, and this definitely counts as hate speech as it incites violence towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community,” said Waldhausen. “This highlights the fact that the delay in the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is a major concern.”
Pierre Buckley, the operational manager at GLN, echoed these concerns and called for the bill to to be put into place as soon as possible. “You would think that in a country where diversity is celebrated, that we would not have such a tough time in accepting those who are different to us, be it racial, cultural, gender roles or religious differences,” he said.
A draft version of the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill was published last year for public comment. While the hate crimes aspect of the proposed legislation was widely welcomed, the hate speech provisions were more controversial as they may impact too dramatically on freedom of speech. The government has yet to respond to the input submitted.