Last week I sat in a two-thirds-full cinema in Killarney, Johannesburg, for the premiere of Inxeba (The Wound), where its producer Elias Ribeiro bemoaned the fact that very little money had been recouped from the making of the film.
“The misconception is that we are rich guys exploiting other people’s culture, but the truth is [screenplay writer] Malusi Bengu worked for free on this film for about four years. I might get paid soon.
“NizaJay Ncoyini cannot really afford six months of rent and food with the salary he earned working really hard on this film. We are still trying to make financial sense of this endeavour,” he told the audience during a Q&A session shortly after the credits rolled.
The National Film and Video Foundation – which apparently only “came on board after we got an invitation to the Sundance Film Festival” – had rejected their requests for funding on more than one occasion.
It would be interesting to hear whether the producers, cast and crew truly believed that the situation would have played out any differently.
Artistically, they pulled it off superbly under the directorship of John Trengove – the picture was crisp and the uneasiness throughout felt necessary considering the subject matter at hand. The performances were impressive too.
However, it is hard to believe that Trengove and co would have had their doors being kicked down by excited and willing donors before the multiple-award-winning film had been made. It doesn’t happen in this country (see, among many other similar stories, how Ernest Nkosi struggled to get the 2015 film Thina Sobabili made).
It doesn’t happen because less than 10% of the films released in our cinemas are made here – which would explain why the box office share of South African-produced films stands at a paltry 5%, according to the NFVF 2017 mid-year box office report.
We don’t support our film industry – and it’s why it would have been hard to see that changing, especially for a film that is considered to have “pushed the envelope”. Not only are initiation schools – illegal or otherwise – a moot subject in this country, but on-screen gay romance and sex is best avoided, lest it puts off the insufficient collection of potential audiences.
Continued Ribeiro: “Historically, for a film like this to make more than a million or two in the box-office is unheard of. We basically need a miracle to actually fulfil the prophecy that we are going to be rich off this film.”
But by launching a vitriolic campaign in an effort to damage the film’s promotion, the bigots who have crawled from the woodwork in protest against the film and its stars have damaged their own campaign.
As a result, the attention and interest in the film has been piqued, and has ensured that even those who hadn’t planned on seeing Nakhane Mavuso and NizaJay Ncoyini will now buy tickets to see “what all the fuss is about”.
The fact that the film has now been made available on Netflix in the US – and DStv is sure to follow in due course – should rub it into the noses of once-relevant musician Loyiso Bala and crew.
I’m reminded of Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning portrayal of civil and human rights leader Harvey Milk in the memorable film Milk. In one scene, Harvey Milk tells his campaign team: “They only need to know one of us.”
Importantly, this is what Inxeba has done, and will continue do in the coming weeks and months. As Milk once preached about coming out, this film will, “once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared”.
Maybe that’s what the actors and producers should take away from this undoubtedly exhausting and traumatic period. Money aside, they have helped build on a conversation that we’re not attending to enough.
A pristine garden remains so only with consistent tending. The conversation about sexuality, about gender parity and patriarchy and misogyny and homophobia will never die, and similarly the conversation cannot expire.
It’s been nasty, it’s been overwhelming, it’s been astounding, it’s been thrilling and it’s been typically South African – but it must go on.
This article first appeared on Times Select