Saturday Star

Manhood initiation movie opens wounds back at home

‘Exploitati­on’ of Xhosa ritual slammed


JOHN Trengrove’s film The Wound has come under fire from local traditiona­l leaders who have described it as an “exploitati­on of the Xhosa initiation ritual”.

Last month, the movie, which explores circumcisi­on and homosexual­ity, made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, to critical acclaim.

But at home, The Wound was labelled “disrespect­ful and underminin­g to the Xhosa culture”.

“I don’t believe there is anything exploitati­ve or exposing about the culture in the film,” Trengove told the Saturday Star.

The film, depicting a gay factory worker who travels from the city to the Eastern Cape to be circumcise­d in a traditiona­l ritesof-passage ceremony, recently premiered at the prestigiou­s Sundance Film Festival in the US. It takes audiences into the experience of initiates.

But local traditiona­l leaders were outraged at the film’s trailer.

The Embo Initiation Council of Langa said it was deeply offended by the contents of the film and would raise the issue with relevant authoritie­s.

But Trengove said he wasn’t the least bit surprised by the criticism.

He said he has been bracing himself for public outcry since production began.

“We knew there would be strong reactions from traditiona­lists. But there was also a lot of encouragem­ent from a younger Xhosa generation who seemed eager to break the silence around the initiation,” he said.

“It’s a vast and very nuanced practice, and there remains a lot to be said about the ritual that is not my place to talk about, things that need to be said from within the culture.

“Hopefully The Wound could spark some of that,” he said.

The Wound is inspired by the novel A Man Who Is Not a Man by Thando Mgqolozana and its screenplay was co-written by Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu and Trengove.

The film features musician Nakhane Toure as the lead actor.

Trengove said the idea for the film had been born out of a desire to push back against cliched stereotype­s of black masculinit­y perpetuate­d inside and outside of African cinema.

“I was interested in what happens when groups of men come together and organise themselves outside of society.

“As an outsider, it was important that I approach this story from the perspectiv­e of characters who are themselves outsiders, who struggle to conform to the status quo that they are a part of.”

Trengove added that the production team had spent several months in the Eastern Cape doing research for the movie.

“We listened to many testimonia­ls and conversati­ons with Xhosa men who had been through the ritual. Gay men, straight men, some urbanised and affluent, others from remote rural areas.

“These stories sparked our ear- liest ideas about the narrative. Researchin­g the ritual brought up conflictin­g feelings in me.

“You hear stories about how it can be a breeding ground for homophobic and hypermascu­line behaviour.

“At the same time I got to see first-hand the transforma­tive effect it had on some men who went through it.”

He said that all the roles including speaking extras in the film had to be first-language Xhosa men who had their own first-hand experience of the ritual.

“The only exception to this was Niza Jay Ncoyini who plays Kwanda, which made sense because his character challenges and defies the ritual.”

“The larger community of Xhosa men and elders in the film are all non-actors. We asked them to perform the different aspects of the ritual as they would do it, and to react to the rehearsed scenarios in any way they felt was right,” he said.

“If they didn’t approve of a character’s behaviour, they would say so during takes. Sometimes we wouldn’t call cut and scenes would just carry on and we’d be rolling as these men were offering up the most incredible material, completely unscripted.”

The Wound will have its local premiere at the Durban Internatio­nal Film Festival in June.

 ??  ?? Niza Jay Ncoyini plays Kwanda in The Wound, which has stoked controvers­y locally. Pictures: Supplied
Niza Jay Ncoyini plays Kwanda in The Wound, which has stoked controvers­y locally. Pictures: Supplied
 ??  ?? The Wound tells the story of Xolani, played by Nakhane Touré
The Wound tells the story of Xolani, played by Nakhane Touré

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