Protests, Cancellations Mar Local Premiere of South African Oscar Entry ‘The Wound’

Demonstrators object to film's LGBT theme

Protests have disrupted the theatrical rollout of South African helmer John Trengove’s powerful LGBT drama “The Wound,” with cinemas across the country forced to cancel screenings.

A months-long campaign against the film by members of the Xhosa community culminated in a day of angry protests Friday, as eight of the 16 cinemas taking part in the nationwide release pulled the movie for fear of mob violence and because of reported death threats against staff.

Producer Elias Ribeiro described it as a sad day for the film’s cast and crew, who had earlier woken to the news that “The Wound” had been nominated for eight South African Film and Television Awards. “It’s unfortunate that a small minority decided to resort to violence,” he says.

“The Wound” is a powerful examination of sexuality, masculinity and cultural identity set against the backdrop of the traditional Xhosa initiation ceremony. Since its Sundance premiere last year, the film has racked up a string of local and international awards, making it onto the short list for foreign-language Oscar before ultimately falling short of a nomination.

The film has courted controversy from the outset. After last year’s Durban Intl. Film Festival, which screened “The Wound,” the Xhosa king and other traditional leaders called for a boycott from the Xhosa community. They railed against what they said was an appropriation of Xhosa culture, but critics said the objections were underlain by homophobia.

On Friday, the producers lodged formal complaints with the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality, arguing that the violent protests would prevent queer moviegoers from seeing the film. “It’s pretty devastating not being able to share the film with them,” producer Cait Pansegrouw said. “The queer community has really rallied behind it.”

Though the movie offers an unflinching look at taboo subjects, the creators were determined to provide a nuanced portrait of a young Xhosa man grappling with his sexual identity.

“We knew we were playing with fire. We knew that this was a controversial subject matter,” said Ribeiro, who credited the film’s Xhosa collaborators, including co-writer Thando Mgqolozana, a Xhosa novelist who depicted the world of initiations in his book “A Man Who Is Not a Man.” “We treated it with a lot of respect and integrity throughout.”

Trengove won best director and leading man Nakhane Touré won best actor at the Durban festival. But the backlash against the film grew, including death threats against Pansegrouw and others, and Friday’s protests thrust “The Wound” back into the spotlight. The film is trending on South African Twitter, with the chorus of angry voices drowned out by a louder, largely positive debate.

“The beauty of all of this is that we have really caused an impact,” Ribeiro said. “There’s a national dialogue around toxic masculinity, around patriarchy, around homophobia.”

Pansegrouw, too, has been encouraged by the broader conversation. “This is why we made the film,” she said, “and why it needs to exist.”

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