Interview: Director John Trengove talks South African coming-of-age drama, 'The Wound'
ohn Trengove's South African coming-of-age drama, The Wound is a visceral and powerfully done film about queer Black identity and its intersections with Ukwaluka, the rite of passage for male Xhosa teens— a rural tribe in the country. The film follows Xolani (Nakhane Touré) an isolated closeted factory worker who returns each year to act as a khaukatha, or mentor for the younger boys. However, his real motive in returning is to seek comfort in the arms of his secret lover, Vija (Bongile Mantsai), a married father of three and fellow mentor whose outward performance of masculinity makes him both him feared and admired. When Xolani is assigned to Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini) a Westernized posh teen from the suburbs of Johannesburg, everything Xolani has long kept buried deep begins to rise to the surface. With Trengove, a white South African in the director's chair, The Wound has already be shrouded in contraversy— something the filmmaker expected before taking on the project. "I think now, with all of the dialogue around the film— a lot of the criticism and backlash to the film ... This is still part of the learning process, " he told Shadow and Act. "I feel like I'm still going through the process of making The Woundand these conversations an integral part of that process."
Ahead of the film's debut, I sat down to speak with Mr. Trengove about why he decided to write and direct this film, what The Wound says in conversation with Berry Jenkins' Moonlight and what he's learned about himself during this entire process.
Aramide Tinubu: What inspired you to write this story and how did you connect with the author Thando Mgqolozana to get into this world since you are really an outsider to Xhosa culture?
John Trengove: I think that's the million dollar question. It started with a conversation between a colleague and myself, Batana Vundla, who's a producer. He actually became a co-producer on the film, and we spoke about the possibility of making a queer film in South Africa. We felt this that was something that was not being done and at that point. That was five years ago, and with Batana being both gay as well as Xhosa—the conversation sort of moved organically towards the idea of the rites of passage into manhood. The thing that suddenly became sort of meaningful to us was this idea that at the time, the media was quite saturated with statements of people like Robert Mugabe saying that homosexuality was un-African—a Western decadence, that it was against traditional African culture. It seemed meaningful to us at that time to kind of intersect these two ideas. A story about same sex desire in a very specific traditional context, which is a rite of passage into manhood. I think also that is what sort of opened the full aptitude to a broader thematic potential than just let's say a queer film for a queer audience. It allowed us to kind of speak about bigger things like patriarchy and fractured masculinity and all these ideas I was interested in unpacking.
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