People have started protesting director John Trengove’s 2017 dramatic film The Wound, one of the few LGBTQ films to premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, for appropriating African culture and publicizing a secret tribal circumcision ritual depicted in his film.
Unless you’re an ethno-anthropologist, you may not know about the traditional Xhola circumcision ritual that marks a boy’s passage into manhood. Considering that the ritual has resulted in over 800 deaths, it makes sense why young Kwanda, the youthful initiate in Trengrove’s film, wouldn’t want to go through it. His resistance forces his mentor Xolani to reconsider the traditions and the tribal notions of manhood altogether.
The actual ritual has gotten public exposure before. Former South African president and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela wrote about the experience in his autobiography.
For those who are curious, the ritual involves a traditional surgeon (called an ingcibi) who severs the initiate’s foreskin using a spear, which is then tied to the initiate’s blanket. The penile wound is covered with a healing plant and for the next eight days, the initiate is confined to a hut (called a bhoma) and forbidden from eating certain foods. After eight days, an ukosiswa rite removes the food restrictions and marks the start of the second phase, which lasts two to three more weeks. The initiates’ seclusion ends when they race to the river to bathe themselves. Finally, the initiates’ hut and possessions are burnt, each initiate gets a new blanket and is called an amakwala (new man) henceforth.
Quartz Africa reports that protestors, like South African journalist Lwando Xaso and the current Xhosa king, say Trengrove (a white South African) appropriated Xhosa culture, particularly “jealously guarded secrets of a tradition that has managed to endure oppression and modernization.”
Xaso said, “It is not okay to subjectively delve into traditions and practices you are not a part of under the guise of sparking debate and engagement. It is not your place because you are not speaking as a member of that society.”
The interesting thing about this film is that people are mad at @nakhaneofficial, Jay and the white director, John. Intentionally removing all the other Xhosa men who were involved in the making of this film. #InxebaTheWound
— You had me at ‘Wakanda Forever’ (@AmavaBello) February 3, 2018
Two South African cinemas stopped showing The Wound over security threats, but it remains available elsewhere internationally.