I recently had a life changing cinematic experience – life changing as an artist, as a film and acting student but most importantly as a Black Gay South African
I remember stepping out of our Uber and walking into the mall where the screening was happening, let me paint the picture for you. It’s Sunday afternoon the after church family crowds have filtered their way into a mostly quiet shopping Centre in the suburbs of Johannesburg. In comes 15+ black gay men their entrance marked colourful shouts and greetings, 6-inch heels and braids on one, micro shorts on another – I myself, well I was wearing sky blue silk kimono – but I was also very self-conscious suddenly. I always am, I’m always hyper aware of how much space I’m taking up when ever I walk into a new space, I’m always aware of the looks my loud personality draws, the whispers my expressive clothes force, when I walked into that mall I was very aware of the one small boy who pointed at us while we were walking to the cinema. This isn’t unusual but I still become very self-aware. I try to take up as little less space as possible, I try to walk (quite literally) a little straighter – to get where I’m going with as little fan fare as possible. So that was me on Sunday afternoon, self conscious in a small crowd of black gay men going to see a movie.
I went to watch that film expecting to be entertained, anticipating to maybe learn a little more about the Xhosa ritual of going “up to the mountain”, I was also going to see my friend and sometimes creative collaborator Niza Jay act in his first international movie title. What I didn’t expect was to be confronted and challenged for 90 min, I was not expecting to cry because of this movie (I haven’t cried since Lion King), I wasn’t expecting to be so involved in a story, a story exploring much more than just a scared traditional ritual but a layered story exploring love, masculinity, sexuality – how all these different things intersect in the everyday life of Black South African Men, more importantly how Black Gay South African Men navigate these themes, how we constantly are negotiating these different areas in our lives.
This film is not only huge jump for South African film and film making because of how well it was shot (it’s a beautiful visual from start to finish), but it’s also a huge leap for people who’s truth doesn’t get told enough, people who are silenced in their communities, people who are often so misrepresented – people like me and those 15 men who walked into that Centre on Sunday. This film is a huge leap for the types of stories that aren’t being told in our country – rich, diverse stories that begin conversations, stories that make you look at yourself, look at your community, your traditions. The story of Inxeba is one about family, responsibility, expectations, sex, love, death, life. It’s a story that I think everyone will relate to in one way or another.
Inxeba is also film that asks the questions – what does it mean to be a man, what does it take to be a man. It asks these questions and no matter what your answer is it challenges it. This film, this cinematic moment, confronts and investigates manhood whilst still managing to disrupt our usual depictions of black men – sitting in that cinema I felt as if I was seeing myself represented honestly for the very first time – me, as a Black Gay South African Man.
This is so important (it’s also the reason I cried), I’m someone who has grown up on stages and sets my entire life, some of my earliest memories are of me going to watch plays at the children’s theatre with my mother, I was addicted to tv, my favorite way to procrastinate is watching every film ever made, and even with all the theatre, tv and film I’ve experienced I’ve never seen myself on stage, screen. I’ve never felt like I’ve seen my story being told. In Inxeba, for the first time, I saw black gay men, speaking a language with same textures as mine, in a landscape I know, going through things I HAVE experienced – that for me was so important, that for me was something I’ll never forget, ever. Nakhane Touré, Niza Jay Ncoyini and Bongile Mantsai all played such honest, truthful characters and I have the deepest appreciation for how they told, what I feel is also my story.
Before walking into that cinema I didn’t know how I needed my story to be told, I don’t realize how cathartic and affirming it would be to see my experiences – and the fact that I got to see it in a theatre full of only black gay men made that moment even more magical because I wasn’t feeling those emotions alone.
And when we finished watching the film and walked out of that cinema – all of us. A power squad of black gay men – I felt like my presence in that space, in that family shopping center on a Sunday, was valid. I think that’s the most important thing that this film did for me, it made me feel like my story was important, that my story needed to be told. It made me feel like my identity needed and deserved to be celebrated. That I didn’t need to be so self aware when I walked – that I was allowed to take up that space, to be loud in it, to be colorful. That film made me feel like I was allowed to just be.
So go watch it, okay!