THE BLOG
06/02/2018 13:30 SAST | Updated 06/02/2018 13:30 SAST

'Inxeba' Seeks To Centre And Empower The Voices Of The Silenced LGBT+ Community

Being gay is often considered a betrayal of religious and traditionalist dogma.

Inxeba

Whenever a nation is divided on something, we ought to interrogate the merits of its division through the prism of robust dialogue. Whenever narratives play themselves out, we ought to wrestle the facts with an open mind and sheer willingness to understand the "other" individual's lived experience.

While these are noble and admirable considerations, things tend to get lost in the air of outrage.

What was meant to stir deep-seated reflection and honest critique from within became the fuel that entrenched existing archaic views. And what was supposed to centre the voices of the silenced and placated became the fuel to its own proverbial fire.

"Inxeba" is a cinematic masterpiece set against the backdrop of a longstanding cultural rite of passage, practised by the Xhosa tribe. This sacred cultural rite happens when a boy comes of age and his elders are of the view that he is ready to become a man. In this film, a young boy who's known Johannesburg all his life is beset with the challenge of leaving the city to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers.

Inxeba

What is made known to the viewer early in the movie is that Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini) embraces who he truly is with no shame at all – unlike Xolani (Nakhane), his caregiver, and Vija (Bongile Manstai), who simply hide behind society's approval.

This movie is about visibility and the shame that is often attached to being gay within traditionalist spaces. And how many individuals are placated as a result?

Being gay is often considered a betrayal of religious and traditionalist dogma – a masked contraction in the eyes of many, who feel being homosexual isn't manly or African enough. It is this duality that this movie plays on perfectly – in illustrating how this narrative within traditionalist spaces silences many into hiding from who they truly are as a means of being accepted by society.

This is why Xolani, the protagonist in the movie, volunteers himself every year to be a caregiver to initiates – as a means of asserting his manliness against any accusatory stares that may linger outside his assumed position of privilege. While Kwanda is far more embracing of his sexual identity – and is met with shunning, bigotry and in some instances utter hatred.

This longstanding cultural practice has been at the centre of many polarising discussions in the past – most notably, regarding the senseless and growing number of deaths of initiates over the years, as well as the misuse and abuse of the practice by illegal initiation schools that leave many young and defenceless teens botched and marred. These have been the stories and voices we often hear about.

But little is ever spoken of the other realities and pressures through which hypermasculinity, patriarchy and traditionalist bigotry is reinforced within these spaces. To some, these spaces are extension grounds for silencing – places of asserting patriarchal authority despite whom they may offend.

Manhood is more than one's sexual orientation, and the sooner we realise this, the sooner we will be able to dismantle far more pressing concerns within the kraal and other substructures.

"Inxeba" seeks to centre and empower the voices of the silenced gay community, not to expose the sacred seal of the Xhosa tradition. This is a movie about intersectional politics – where the challenge of self-identity is met with disapproval by the old guard. This is not to say the younger generation has been fully receptive to this narrative either – as seen in the recent protest action against the release of the movie.

Having seen the movie, from the perspective of a heterosexual Xhosa man who has also followed the footsteps of his own forefathers, I must say the movie makes for necessary viewing. It creates a discussion that is often neglected within these spaces and in society in general. This movie challenges archaic views, including patriarchy, and empowers those who feel pacified.

If we are not willing to speak truth to power in spaces that shun, kill or dehumanise many – then where can we as a society tackle or speak against existing social order? If so many young hopefuls are coerced into going to the mountains as a means of "cleansing" them of their gayness – when will it ever be okay to self-identify as we please?

Manhood is more than one's sexual orientation, and the sooner we realise this, the sooner we will be able to dismantle far more pressing concerns within the kraal and other substructures.