If a movie’s success is its audience’s agreement that it’s delivered on its makers’ artistic promises, then the respective viewers of Inxeba and Black Panther seem to have started this year on a cultural high note. So why, in the absence of complaints from its actual intended audiences, has the Films and Publications Board upgraded Inxeba (or downgraded it, depending on your perspective) to an X-rating?
We saw the state recoil from the backlash when Generation’s Jason and Senzo kissed; we saw the outcry when We The Brave ran an ad with a same-sex kiss. I submit we’re more comfortable, as society, with violent men than we are with vulnerable men.
That’s not a dig at Black Panther: I haven’t watched the Marvel creation yet, and I’m quite looking forward to it. But I have questions about some reviewers’ overtones of, not quite black triumphalism, but indomitability. I find startling the contrast between those and reactions to Inxeba’s explicit depiction of something that scares us more than the choice between explicit sex and explicit violence: “the wound” of human vulnerability.
Judging by reviews, one could be forgiven for concluding that unlike Inxeba, Black Panther is the undisputed Truth — with a capital-letter T — about the black identity that colonialism otherwise mutilated and continues mutilating in its mutilated depictions of mutilated black men — black men who, by starring in said stories, are willingly co-opted into colonialism’s accusation that their own culture has scarred them in ways colonialism never could have without their cultural treachery.
Black Panther, on the other hand, is consumed as a story about untouched, self-realised black society. But history never happens in a vacuum, and not even in our inconvenient reality is indomitability the restful given of having never been colonised: it’s the result of non-stop performativity imposed by the custodians of our cultures, and that performativity is in the same WhatsApp group as toxic masculinity.
If you don’t think Black Panther has inadvertently catered to that social appetite, then imagine how its black audiences would have reacted to seeing Black Panther depicting Wakanda’s sons playing with dolls. Would it have received the same treatment as Inxeba?
Think boys with dolls are gay? Consider this: what if, as children, we develop our capacity for tuning into other people’s feelings when we role-play with dolls and humanise objects? When we imaginatively project human feelings onto them so we may practice how we’d react in those scenarios?
Has it occurred to us that we can talk about the nuanced similarities and distinctions between robust and ongoing sexual consent a hundred billion times, but without that experiential foundation in childhood, all that talking will never, ever land with the seriousness that a serious confrontation with rape culture requires?
Even if it does land, later on, it will still be incorporated not into a commitment to treat women as human equals, but to help them feel less conquered in what’s still fundamentally their conquest. Think “pick-up artists”. The relational, empathetic core, however well it’s imitated later on, must be developed from much earlier than puberty.
Or look at our political landscape: the danger with triumphalism is it’s a lot like nationalism and tribalism. In his article on “the dangers of Zulu Nationalism”, Mondli Makhanya reminds readers of ANC KZN’s responsiveness to Zulu ethnicism.
“We know [Zuma] will not hesitate to pull the Zulu nationalism trigger as the cantankerous chief from that province loved to do. We should prepare for that eventuality once his fraud and corruption trial begins and the State Capture commission implicates him in more criminal activities.”
And unless ANC KZN splits away from the mother body — a possibility with a set of terrifying implications of its own — KZN’s tribalism will be inveigled in the party’s messaging to voters in its build-up to national elections next year.
This is all to say we must enjoy Black Panther and whatever good comes from Cyril Ramaphosa’s term the way we should have enjoyed the good in Mbeki’s term: with eyes open to the dangers likely to be around the corner.
This is especially important when ratings are changed, seemingly, in response to public pressure.
This all also means keeping our hearts open. For any triumphalist black self-representation as martially indomitable, there may, accidentally, be the repression of those whose likelihood to yield to the power of love makes them less likely to be lovers of power. Inxeba is a story about a person dying to be a person. Who are the black movie superheroes supposed to save, if not exactly such? DM
While we have your attention...
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.
Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.
Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.
Canola oil is named such as to remove the "rape" from its origin as rapeseed oil.