06/02/2018 13:48 SAST | Updated 13/02/2018 18:39 SAST

'Inxeba' – The Wound We Need To Address

If people are going to attack the film, they need to get the facts correct, and that means actually watching the film first.

Xhosa Initiates pass by close to the funeral of Nelson Mandela, Qunu, South Africa, 14 December 2014.
Brent Stirton/ Getty Images
Xhosa Initiates pass by close to the funeral of Nelson Mandela, Qunu, South Africa, 14 December 2014.

Marc Davies/ HuffPost SA

"Inxeba" could not have come at a better time – it is an important art work and the amount of outrage it has garnered both on social media and at dinner tables is testament to the fact that its about time that we had uncomfortable conversations.

Conversations about where we stand on issues around cultural rites of passage, and the othering of certain bodies by these very practices that we laud and dare not problematise – because that would be "breaking the seal of our traditions".

The furore around the movie is absolutely unwarranted, and it is unfortunately played out on the biggest echo chamber we have - social media. Some of the commentators on whether the movie should be screened or not haven't even seen the film!

The film's core narrative revolves around the isolation of LGBT+ people who are othered and ostracised. The film explores the various ways in which hypermasculinity plays itself out on the bodies of those it does not recognise as its own.

It is also telling that it is cis-het men that are up in arms about the film, calling it "an abomination" to the sacred Xhosa ritual of ulwaluko (initiation) – supposedly because it exposes the secrets of what goes on in the mountains between amakhwetha (initiates), ingcibi (surgeons) and amakankatha (caregivers).

Anyone who has seen the film knows that this is not true – ulwaluko is the setting for the story to play itself out, but its secrets and rituals are in no way the focal point of the film itself.

This movie has a group of conservative, cis-het men shook because their fragile and toxic masculinity is showing just how homophobic they actually are. Black masculinity, particularly kwaXhosa, is reinforced by such rites of passage, because boys are sent to the mountain to be "taught how to be men".

When these men come back from initiation, they then play out their masculinity on the women in their lives and their children, because society has told them that their manhood is measured by the manner in which they enact it upon others.

Should the movie actually have been about the tradition itself, and had it exposed what happens at the mountain, even that would not be reason enough to be so outraged as to boycott the film. There is no culture or tradition that is beyond critique – in fact, we need to engage each other on the topics we find uncomfortable or taboo.

Inxeba/ The Wound

This is particularly important because this age-old cultural practice has come under scrutiny quite a few times – as a result of initiates' deaths at the hands of unscrupulous practitioners.

This is how we can ensure that as a society we can talk about how to minimise the risks that come with the illegal initiation schools that crop up every year, or how we can ensure the decline in the number of boys who have to be hospitalised as a result of botched circumcisions.

It may be uncomfortable, but things that go unchallenged or unquestioned because we are told they should be left as is, are the very things that pose a real danger to the erasure of the cultures which we so desperately seek to preserve.


"Inxeba" has managed to get the ball rolling in terms of ensuring that at last, we have an open and honest dialogue about the deep-rooted homophobia that is masked under polite tolerance of those in the LGBT+ community.

Those who have already staged protests against the film and those who continue to boycott it need to be honest – this has absolutely nothing to do with culture, and everything to do with protesting the complicated love story between three gay men, who constantly have to negotiate their existence and prove that they too belong in this world that is intent on delegitimising their lived experience.

If people are going to attack the film, they need to get their facts correct, and that means firstly, actually watching the film, and secondly, not misplacing their anger under the tired guise of "Xhosa culture" being exposed.