×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Drama ‘Moffie’ Explores Homophobia in South Africa

The year is 1981, and South Africa’s apartheid government is embroiled in a vicious war along the southern Angolan border. Like all white boys over the age of 16, Nicholas Van der Swart is conscripted for two years of mandatory military service—a brutal period of indoctrination as the white minority government seeks to protect its borders from the threat of communism and “die swart gevaar” (“the black danger”).

For Nicholas (Kai Luke Brummer), that service grows increasingly fraught when he finds himself attracted to a fellow conscript. In a world where the word “moffie” — an Afrikaans slur for “gay” — is used to berate anyone who doesn’t live up to a perceived masculine ideal, Nicholas has to come to terms with his desires while also surviving a war being fought on behalf of a government whose racist policies had already made it a pariah state around the world.

“Moffie” is the fourth feature by Oliver Hermanus, the critically acclaimed director of Cannes Un Certain Regard player “Skoonheid” (Beauty) and “The Endless River,” which was the first South African film selected for the official competition at the Venice Film Festival. Based on the novel by André-Carl van der Merwe, it’s a riveting exploration of South African masculinity and the social, political and cultural forces that shaped it during apartheid rule. The film has its world premiere Sept. 4 in the Horizons section in Venice.

Moffie” examines a little-known chapter in South African history, set just before internal pressure and international condemnation began to bring about the end of the apartheid regime. “This army and this conflict disappeared just around the time that [Nelson] Mandela came out of jail, and the road to democracy was being paved,” said Hermanus. Though compulsory military service left a profound psychological mark on a generation of white South African men, “there was no space for the trauma of white men at this time, when black people were being liberated.”

That trauma has a complicated legacy in South Africa, where questions of race-based economic inequality remain relevant 25 years since the end of apartheid. Hermanus himself has wondered if a story about white pain deserves to be told. But the director noted that “Moffie” is especially relevant in the context of the #MeToo movement.

“If we want to talk about white men today, or men in general, in the climate that we live in, maybe it is important to look at how these men … have been made for the last century in South Africa,” said Hermanus.

Nearly four decades since the end of the so-called Border War, many of the conscripts depicted in “Moffie” have themselves gone on to be fathers. The stories of what they endured during the war have largely remained untold; many of the actors in the film, said Hermanus, recalled hearing about that period in their fathers’ lives for the first time.

Many also came to question whether the toxic masculinity of the army, with its hyper-aggression and rigid conformity to the rules, molded those men into the taciturn fathers who struggled to express their love for their sons.

For gay cast members, that distance was especially troubling. “For any gay person, there is a relationship with shame. That’s something that you have to constantly negotiate,” said Hermanus. “It could come from your parents, it could come from society, it could come from yourself.”

The brutal war depicted in “Moffie” has somehow given the two generations common ground — the fathers as veterans, the sons as their onscreen doubles — offering an unexpected path to acceptance. “For the vast majority of those actors, coming out was horrific,” said Hermanus. “Making the film for [them] was an incredibly cathartic experience.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content