Why Inxeba got unwarranted backlash from South Africa traditionalists

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From its debut, the movie Inxeba made news headlines as it was welcomed with mixed emotions from its South African audience despite of its international praise. Cinemas around the country were met with protest action from traditional leaders demanding that the film be banned. More recently, the movie made headlines as it is in court after the Film and Publication Board’s Appeal Tribunal banned the movie from mainstream cinema which again stimulated a national dialogue on the oppression of the members of the LGBTQI+ community in South Africa. Firstly, this essay will explain how the protest action came about alongside the issues that were raised in the screening of the movie. Furthermore, there will be engagement with the parties involved who are traditionalists, the makers of Inxeba as well as the FBP Appeals Tribunal. Secondly, social psychology theories such as the minority influence, social representation, and prejudice will be used to explain why the movie became so controversial.  Lastly, a possible solution for dealing with the issues and repercussions of the screening of this movie will be discussed. 

            The movie is the first of its kind in South Africa to pair the sacred ritual of Ulwalukho with homosexuality.  Ulwalukho is a traditional initiation into manhood that amaXhosa people of South Africa practice (Inxeba Team, 2018).  The Inxeba team argues that they saw the film as a medium to give the Xhosa gay men a voice. This came after the creators of the movie engaged with individuals from rural South Africa who “had never met a Xhosa gay man” (Masinga, 2018). The movie Inxeba follows Xolani, “a lonely factory worker who joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood.  When a defiant [gay] initiate from the city discovers that Xolani and another caretaker are having a secret affair. Xolani’s world entire existence begins to unravel” (Inxeba Team, 2018).  Notably, Xhosa writers and actors were used in the film who all identified as Xhosa, homosexual or heterosexuals. 

            The traditional leaders were given a special screening by the Inxeba team prior to the debut and it is at this point when they expressed their grievances. On the 2nd of February, the movie was debuted in South Africa. Members of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Controlesa) and some members of the general public opened cinemas with protest action as well as threatening to damage property if the screening of the movie was not closed (Herald Report, 2018). Controlesa argued that the movie was another example of cultural appropriation of the Xhosa culture and was a negative representation of the ritual. In addition, they argue that the juxtaposition of sex which is taboo during the initiation process of boys into manhood and the sacred ritual distorts the whole culture. In essence, they argue that this distortion sends a negative message about the process of Ulwalukho and discourages potential initiates from going through the process (Masuabi, 2018). As a result of this, they are adamant that the movie should not be shown to 16-year olds and effectively be banned. 

Likewise, the kings of Xhosa and Zulu nations argued that the movie exposes parts of the ritual that should remain exclusive to those who undergo the process, i.e. Xhosa men. Since the success of the ritual lied in the secrecy, they argue that the ritual should remain guarded from exposure to women and others (Masuabi, 2018). Otherwise it loses its value. In efforts to protect their culture it should be excluded with immediate effect. Consequently, these members of society then argued saying that the National Film and Video Foundation funded a movie that affects the “dignity of the cultural, religious and linguistic communities” and thus must apologise (Nxesi, 2018). Furthermore, they argued that in the film made inferences about Shaka Zulu and Jesus being gay which were “blasphemous”. Moreover, they argued that the movie served no educational purpose but rather it “exploits, dilutes, and distorted” their customs. On these accounts, the Film and Publication Board’s Appeal Tribunal later reclassified the movie from an age restriction of 16 strong language and sex to an explicit sex or rather pornographic film movie that can only be viewed in approved adult lounges (Film and Publication Board, 2018). In effect, pulling it from mainstream cinemas.  

            This reclassification by the FBP Appeal Tribunal was seen as a form of censorship and further marginalisation of the LGBTQI+ community. The Inxeba team argued that the movie aimed to give an alternative representation of Xhosa or African masculinity and give the Xhosa queer community which is on the margins a voice (Trengrove, 2018). They argued that the juxtaposition of homosexuality and a sacred ritual was not easy to comprehend on the part of the traditionalists (Masinga, 2018). Moreover, the Inxeba argued that they did not expose any aspect of the custom that was not already known through other forms of media like Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom. Therefore, the hostility and controversy on the part of the traditional leaders to them showed the discrimination and deep-rooted homophobia of traditionalists. Correspondingly, the Johannesburg pride argued that they saw the reclassification of the film amounts to “homophobia, transphobia, and flies in the face of the constitutional values” and is an “unconstitutional abuse of power” (Mamba Writer, 2018). Which then feeds into the narrative that the movie indeed gives a platform for those who felt as though cultural practices like Ulwalukho oppress and marginalise members of the LGBTQI+ community.  

Conversely, the members of traditional South Africa argued that they had no issue with the LGBTQI+ community. However, they argue that in this film their customs are being exploited and distorted for financial gain (Nxesi, 2018). On the other hand, the Inxeba team and members of the LGBTQI+ community argue that this movie reflects the lived realities of many South African men. Therefore, having the movie banned on account that it is a “false” depiction of Xhosa customs amounts to the invalidation of another groups lived reality. Furthermore, general discourse and attitude in African cultures around homosexuality is negative and is seen to “not be African” (Pincheon, 2000).  Comparatively, the rerating of the movie as a pornographic film and exclusion from mainstream cinema on accounts that it had no educational nor artistic value despite its international artistic accolades reinforced the latter viewpoint. 

The bigger psychological problem that is evident in the call from the traditional leaders to have the movie banned is that of prejudice. The traditionalists see the use of homosexual sex in the mountains amidst the ritual as a negative representation of their culture. In view of this, prejudice is defined by Brown (2011) as attitudes or behaviour which explicitly or implicitly implies negativity or antipathy towards a certain group of people. From the LGBTQI+ as well as the Inxeba’s point of view, the protest action from the traditionalist is seen as a result of the pre-existing dominant negative attitudes that traditionalists have over homosexuality.  Attitudes are defined as an evaluation that denotes a person’s orientation to an object and tends to be value-expressive (Augoustinos & Walkker,1995). In this case, the strong negative attitudes towards the juxtaposition of gay sex with the sacred ritual of Ulwalukho shows identification with heteronormative Xhosa manhood that is anti-homosexuality. This is evident in the interviews wherein the Xhosa men who wrote the script of Ulwalukho are described by a traditional leader as a “shame” to the Xhosa culture for creating such a narrative. 

The LGBTI+ community is often on the margins of society and African culture as mentioned above. Owing to the aforementioned, there is limited exposure of rural Xhosa men to homosexuals. Subsequently, there has only been a dominant heteronormative form of masculinity or what it means to be a Xhosa man which excludes gay men. So, the movie aimed to create an alternative representation of this existing masculinity. Alternative representation refers to “the representation of a potentially competing representation from within a social within a representation” (Gillepsie, 2008). As a result, existing masculinity necessitates heterosexuality, so to posit that there can be homosexual masculinity is a competing representation to that which already exists. In this case, the homosexuality under the Xhosa initiation to manhood threatens the core of heteronormative Xhosa masculinity. Gillespie (2008) argues that alternative representations can be both stabilising and destabilising for in-groups. To illustrate this, should the traditionalists saw the movie as a stimulant for change and more inclusivity of the LGBTQI+ community in their traditions this would reinforce the unity amongst amaXhosa. Or it could cause, a labelling of those who belong to LGBTQI+ community as the out-group and heterosexual Xhosa men as the in-group which breaks down rather than builds. 

            This alternative representation can also be understood under the minority influence theory. Moscovici argued minorities can influence majorities, just as much as majorities have influence over minorities (Tredoux, 2018). Additionally, he argued that unlike with majority influence wherein public compliance results in conformity. Minorities operate on an individual cognitive level and usually leads to conversion.  In this case, traditionalists are the majority and insist on upholding the existing hegemonic Xhosa masculinity by having the movie Inxeba banned from cinemas. Notably, it is common when minorities antagonise power, efforts are made to concealment the opposition (Tredoux, 2018). Their efforts almost succeeded when they used their power to silence the minority, through the reclassification and exclusion from main cinemas making the movie unavailable to the general public. However, the minority which is the Inxeba team managed to have the courts review the reclassification as it appeared that unlawful protocols had been followed to have the movie banned from mainstream cinemas. 

            The use of intimidation and further marginalisation of queer voices through asking for the movie to be banned on accounts of it being “negative” representation of the Xhosa culture will further aggravate the minority. The movie was brought back to cinemas pending the review of the reclassification. However, the traditional leaders again sent an urgent plea to have the movie screening cancelled again, irrespective of the fact that they were in court the previous day on the matter. Unfortunately, the courts declared Inxeba a movie that needed to be seen by the South African public (Lindeque, 2018). From this judgement and since both sides have shown that they are speaking on behalf of the rest of the country with the Inxeba team giving the LGBTQI+ community of South Africa who felt represented by the movie as well as the traditionalists who spoke for rural South Africa and the Xhosa and Zulu people. The best solution would be to have the movie be screened in South African cinemas and the decision to watch the film left to the individual.  This way, members of society who feel offended by the movie could choose to not go to the movie theatre whilst those who are interested in the Xhosa ritual of Ulwaluko and or the alternative representation of Xhosa masculinity. 

To conclude, this essay explained how the protest action from traditionalists came about at the premier of the movie Inxeba. Members of Controlesa argued that the movie appropriated, diluted and distorted the process of Ulwaluko. Furthermore, they argued that the movie was a negative representation of their culture and thus should not be screened in South Africa. These arguments that led to protest action. Conversely, the Inxeba Team argued that the movie reflected the lived realities of LGBTQI+ members who are often excluded in cultural practices such as these. Minority influence, alternative representation, and prejudice were the main theories that were used to explain the controversy. Lastly, the conclusion that the movie should be allowed to be viewed by the general public contradictory to the views of the traditionalists was presented. As a movie like this started a conversation that was long overdue and deserves to be seen by those willing to redefine African masculinities[NOO1] .



Augoustinos, M., & Walkker, I. (1995). Attitudes. Social cognition: An integrated introduction (pp. 12-31). London: SAGE Publications.

Brown, R. (2011). The nature of prejudice. In prejudice:Its social psychology (pp. 1-12). Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

Film and Publication Board. (2018, February 14). Film and publication board overturns classification rating of inxeba.Africa News Service Retrieved from http://www.fpb.org.za/press-release/fpbs-appeal-tribunal-overturns-fpb-classification-rating-movie-inxeba-wound/

Gillespie, A. (2008). Social representations, alternative representations and semantic barriers.Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 38(4), 375-391. 10.1111/j.1468-5914.2008.00376.x Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/175545/Social_representations_alternative_representations_and_semantic_barriers

HeraldReporter. (2018). Release of movie about xhosa initiation blocked. Retrieved from http://www.heraldlive.co.za/news/top-news/2018/02/02/release-movie-xhosa-initiation-postponed/

Lindeque, M. (2018). Court bid to keep ‘inxeba: The wound’ out of cinemas fails. Retrieved from http://ewn.co.za/2018/03/09/court-bid-to-keep-inxeba-the-wound-out-of-cinemas-fails

Mamba Writer. (2018, February 15). Johannesburg pride slams “manhood” circumcision & ‘Inxeba’ ban. Retrieved from  http://www.mambaonline.com/2018/02/15/joburg-pride-slams-manhood-circumcision-inxeba-ban/

Masinga, L. (2018, February 6). ‘Inxeba (the wound)’ exposes deep rooted homophobia, says producer. Retrieved from https://www.iol.co.za/entertainment/movies-theatre/inxeba-the-wound-exposes-deep-rooted-homophobia-says-producer-13127802

Masuabi, Q. (2018). Traditional leaders on ‘inxeba’: ‘We are not homophobic, but…’. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2018/02/14/contralesa-we-are-not-homophobic-but_a_23361605/

Nxesi, N. & Trengove, J. (2018). Prime discussion: Inxeba sparks mixed emotions [YouTube interview]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SM_0IvaqDOM&t=1428s

Pincheon, B. (2000). An ethnography of silences: Race, (homo)sexualities, and a discourse of africa.African Studies Review, 43(3), 39-58. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/525068

Sammut, G., Andreouli, E., Gaskell, G., & Valsiner, J. (2015). Social representations: A evolutionary paradigm? In G. Sammut, E. Andreouli, G. Gaskell, & J. Valsiner (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of social representations (pp. 3-11). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

The Wound Team. (2017). The wound 
Retrieved from inxeba.com 

Tredoux, C. (2018). Social influence.Social Influence, , 1-34.

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