Initially, I refused to support Inxeba. I found it disastrous that John Trengove could dig deeply into African identity and weave a storyline that would at most serve the interests of people who could point and say, ¨see, African culture is terrible!” Moreover, despite being homosexual himself, Trengove´s identity is not entirely in-tune with the specific narrative of the Xhosa (or African) LGBTQIA+ community, who I fully support.
For me, I had nothing against the film, its content, its themes and its brave approach in exposing a legitimate conflict within African communities. I had just hoped that these sorts of stories would be told exclusively by members of those communities. I wished for film and theatre to simply create the space for true survivors of our problematic societies to tell their own stories. They would fill the space and they would do so with the intent of creating progress in their own communities and expressing their lived realities. People from those communities would be forced to accept that they are oppressing their own. The wound surely exists, but I hoped that the wounded would be the ones to expose it.
Even if the end result is almost exactly the same film, in feeling and content, there is a significant difference between members of the community telling the story themselves and merely volunteering themselves to simply act on the script. Now, I do understand that all the actors were first-language Xhosa-speaking men who had themselves undergone initiation. I also understand that they were allowed to be vocal about how particular scenes were portrayed and were given the carte blanche to display authenticity. Most importantly, I understand that Trengove worked together with a homosexual Xhosa filmmaker, Batana Vundla in conceiving the film and co-wrote the script with novelist Thando Mgqolozana, who had undergone the ritual himself and wrote a tell-all novel ¨A Man Who is Not a Man¨ about the subject matter. However, I only wished to give my full support to the film if the ¨Trengove¨ and all associated whiteness were removed.
Even now, I still believe that the displaced storyteller is a problem. However, I find myself compelled to fully support the film from the onslaught and violence it faces from many South Africans.
Let´s get something right first. Most people who are violently upset about the film are infuriated by the content. We must dispel the perception that these people are angered for the same reasons stated above.
But isn´t it because it´s exploiting Xhosa culture for money?
Some may say their problem is that the film is earning money from an African narrative. However, this is really true for any movie. It is an inherent part of popular film and theatre to make money (or even exploit) stories for money. I wonder how many of the people using this argument support other films like ¨Black Panther¨ or ¨Tsotsi¨ who commit the same sin? But more than just this, if the film were hypothetically released for free consumption to all South Africans, I think they would still have a problem with the film. This argument is surely just a dog-whistle or a ¨safe argument¨ to use in protest of the film.
But didn´t you just say that Trengove is a white man who is exploiting a story that is not his own?
Some may also use phrases like ¨white anthropological gaze¨ or ¨white-washing African narratives¨ to further criticise the film. In my view, these are genuinely valid criticisms and they are arguments I support. But if we´re being real, even if this film was made solely by members of the Xhosa community, I would wager that the death threats, threats of violence and forced closure of screenings would continue. In fact, members of the cast received death threats themselves. The violent masculine reaction to the film is just that – violent masculinity. It isn´t motivated by Trengove or any of the other components of whiteness. Surely, that adds to the flames but it definitely did not start the fire. Again, this is another dog-whistle being used to disguise the fact that many people violently abhor the actual content of the film, regardless of who was involved in making it.
But, we have nothing against the homosexuality. They could have just used a different setting, that´s all.
For many people that have reacted violently to the movie, we must accept that they are reacting out of homophobia. To not accept this is to deny reality. This is not to say that everyone against the film is a ¨basket of deplorables.¨ But, at some point, you have look around you and realise which side of an argument you find yourself on. Why is it that so many masculine creatures have escaped their shells to violently blaspheme the film? What motivates them to reject it? Is it just a defence of culture or is it something much deeper than that? We need to ask ourselves these questions, even if we are people that don´t support the film.
Also, the idea that the film should have explored homosexuality in a different setting is absurd. If this is the setting where a problem exists, then this is the setting where the story must be told. Exceptionalism is dangerous because it sanctions oppression as long as it exists in a particular setting. It is this very exceptionalism that causes people to reject marital rape as rape simply because two people are married to each other. That setting should not create an exception for rape just as a traditional practice should not create an exception for violent masculinity. So, no. This was just the right setting to address a problem that occurs in this setting.
Okay, I´ve heard all of this. This just means I shouldn´t violently oppose the film. So, why should I really support the film? Also, didn´t you just say to look around and see what side you´re on? Aren´t you on the side of white people in this argument?
But still, none of what I´ve argued until this point really forces anyone to support the film in its current existence. In fact, I was still very much against the film even after having drawn all these conclusions. I wanted this film with all its content but I still wanted it to be told by the survivors only. Sorry, Trengove, I can not find it in me to support you in this context.
That´s when I stumbled upon an interview where Trengove stated, ¨I wouldn’t have considered making this film, but we were responding to a void.¨ In that moment, I realised that this was the African community´s condemnation for not doing enough to solve the issue of violent masculinity. If we had banded together to address this problem, there would be no Inxeba. Trengove was indeed responding to a void. As men, we have all been so silent and inactive about violent masculinity despite knowing full well of its existence and its harm to womxn and the LGBTQIA+ community. This is indeed Trengove and other whites pointing the finger and saying, ¨see, African men are terrible!¨ They´re right. We, African men, are terrible! (Well, so are they of course, but the point is that they´re not wrong about us despite them being evil too).
This is our condemnation for not progressing ourselves and our communities. We, as men, should accept that. In fact, we should actively fight against the violent masculinity in ourselves and fellow men. When popular feminist writers (who I´m sure you know of) like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or bell hooks title their books ¨we should all be feminists¨ or ¨feminisim is for everybody¨, they´re reminding us to also fight patriarchy. Not only because it chains us into believing that violent masculinity is what it means to be a man and we should liberate ourselves, but also because it means we are well-able and are obligated to fight against patriarchy.
We haven´t been doing that. Inxeba is a mirror of ourselves. We are still toxic. We are still trash. If this movie has wounded men, that is rightfully so. In fact, it should really be seen as a self-inflicted wound. We have done this to ourselves. There is a void and until we start filling it, I support Inxeba and criticism of violent masculinity.
In fact, I believe you should support Inxeba too because it is actively fighting this problem of toxic masculinity. How else will we ensure that men escape the trashbin and a society where issues of gender and sexuality are resolved? Womxn are wounded. The LGBTQIA+ community is wounded. Inxeba reminds us of this and tells cishet men, ¨You and your violent masculinity are reason for this wound.¨