by Wayne D’Cruz
The Wound (Inxeba) is a searing portrait of conflicting masculinities in the Xhosa tribe of South Africa. Shame and desire, tradition and modernity — this film offers more than a few contrasting paradigms, wonderfully devoid of judgement as it explores the lives of men assembled in the East Cape mountains for ukwaluka, a circumcision ritual. At the BFI London Film Festival, we caught up for a quick chat with Director John Trengrove and lead actor Nakhane Touré.
Touré is a musician who has never acted previously. In fact, Trengrove first met with him to discuss music for a project. So what motivated him to try his hand at acting? Pat comes the eloquent reply: a lack of queer representation and especially, black masculinity, which has all too often been quashed under a heteronormative, patriarchal lens. “Queer narratives have tended to focus only on coming out”, says Touré, “most of which have not even resulted in good films. This was a story that simply had to be told.” Several clearly agree. At last count, the film won ten awards and opened to unanimous positive response on the festival circuit. At LFF, it is in competition, vying for the Sutherland Award for Best First Feature.
Trengrove is incredibly self-aware as a white man telling the tale of the Xhosa tradition, that has sparked curiosity and controversy in equal measure. A cast mostly comprising of Xhosa non-professionals and a narrative shaped by Xhosa voices, largely told through the perspective of Kwanda, the rich city boy himself an outsider (invariably like most watching the film), addresses this. The director is quick to dismiss any notion that the film is the first to look at ukwaluka.
“Diversity is everywhere. Look across this room.” Trengrove believes the tide is increasingly starting to turn for diverse narratives reaching the big screen, even if making a film continues to be an arduous effort. His collaboration with Elias Ribeiro at Urucu Media is part of his larger aim to tell stories that are distinctly South African.
The Wound now also has the honour of being the country’s official entry to the Foreign Language Category at the Oscars. Given that another film that explored queer, black masculinity clinched the biggest prize of them all at the prestigious ceremony last year, is queer cinema eclipsing its niche to reach wider appeal? Both nod in agreement as the conversation segues into the nuances of marketing queer cinema. “We hadn’t heard of Moonlight when we first began shooting. But now, I can say it’s great having a ‘big brother’ out there before us.” Trengrove mentions someone who watched their film without knowing anything about it, loved it but also confessed to possibly not having watched it otherwise. In France, much of the film’s mystique was left intact in its marketing, while in the US, they “hammered on”. Which is why, they’re both okay with however their film may choose to be marketed in different territories of the world. “A necessary evil,” quips Touré.
Before we parted ways with the duo, we probed about their future plans. Trengrove responds with dead certainty about wanting to continue to work in South Africa for the foreseeable future. Touré is open to facing the camera again even though John exclaimed in mock horror that “we may have ruined him!”