The Broken Mirror: A Lacanian Perspective on John Trengove’s Film Inxeba (The Wound)

Keywords: Inxeba; African film; queer film; Xhosa culture; ulwaluko; initiation; black masculinity

Abstract

John Trengove’s film Inxeba (The Wound) was met with public outcry as it represented the sacred tradition of ulwaluko (“initiation”). The film was effectively banned in mainstream South African cinemas following a ruling by the Film and Publication Board (FPB) to assign a rating of X18 to the film. Many rights groups and activists were troubled by the FPB’s decision and argued that the outcry against the film was due to homophobic reactions to the representation of same-sex sexualities within hypermasculine Xhosa spaces. However, this paper argues for a more nuanced reading of the protests against the film, taking into account the symbolic aggression that the act of “truth-telling” in the film seemed to enact on traditional Xhosa people. I analyse the controversy by using ideas from Lacanian psychoanalysis as it relates to film study. I explore the film itself as analogous to Lacan’s concept of the mirror, creating tension between subject (in this case, traditional South Africans) and the image, or the representation of black individuals and cultural practices in the film. Additionally, I explore the radical alterity of the Other in the film, the seat of revulsion, threat and hostility, represented simultaneously by the queer characters and at times by constructs and images of whiteness, the whiteness of the director of the film and the whiteness represented in the text which is seen as threatening to Xhosa culture and values. I argue that the reactions to the film speak to deep psychic tensions in South Africa in terms of culture, sexuality and representation, and I explore how the controversy constitutes a pivotal moment in rethinking and reconfiguring South African queer representations, particularly concerning black subjects.

Author Biography

Grant Andrews, University of the Witwatersrand

Lecturer,

Division of Languages, Literacies and Literatures

Wits School of Education

University of the Witwatersrand

Published
2019-09-09
Section
Articles