Niven, himself a homosexual, has fled Amsterdam, where gay men are being persecuted and publicly garroted. Shot on video and transferred to film, ''Proteus'' is full of beauty shots, like the repeated images of the king protea buds blossoming in accelerated motion.
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Like Jarman in ''Caravaggio,'' the filmmakers of ''Proteus'' introduce deliberate anachronisms -- a jeep, a radio, a plastic bag -- to suggest the timelessness of their story. And like Mr.
Haynes in ''Poison,'' they seem profoundly influenced by Jean Genet's image of imprisonment as a homoerotic fantasy, creating a landscape filled with beautiful men and opportunities for clandestine couplings, as well as the looming possibility of corporal punishment. In the most romantic moment in the film, which opens today in New York, the two prisoners are lashed together and whipped, sharing the sweet ecstasy of pain. South African queer film and post-apartheid social divides. South African queer 1 realities have been greatly underrepresented in local cinema.
Even though roughly between fourteen and twenty-five feature-length films are produced in the country annually, in addition to many films produced for television and DVD release Burnett , only a handful of films from major studios have centrally dealt with queer themes in South Africa. Martin Botha , in his review of queer cinema throughout South African history up until , explains that 'images of gay men and women are limited and still on the margin of the film industry.
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One ends up with less than 20 short films, a few documentaries and less than 10 features with openly gay and lesbian characters'. Unfortunately, this has not translated into a great deal of scholarly attention, and the rich themes, dynamic characterisation and important work of representation which queer films undertake have not been met with as much academic scrutiny as they deserve. South African queer films have a complex relationship with other cinemas in the country, simultaneously fitting within the post-apartheid milieu and challenging dominant narrative conventions.
These queer films seem to fall under the imperative of a great deal of South African creative works to represent the realities of continued marginalisation, racial segregation and the highly contentious gender and identity politics which plague the country even after the formal end of apartheid Burnett As Ashraf Jamal puts it, 'cultural expression continues to be stalked by the apartheid imagination'. While a large amount of escapist romance films and comedies are produced in the country, particularly for the sizable white Afrikaans-speaking market, 3 many films catering to broader audiences or falling outside of the comedy or romance genres tend to touch on socio-political issues linked to the legacy of apartheid Burnett It is significant that the white Afrikaans-speaking 4 market is so dominant as well as being so frequently devoid of significant political themes.
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This indicates both the economic advantages afforded by the legacy of apartheid that allows for the group to disproportionately produce and consume film media, and also indicates the ways in which many Afrikaans-speaking people refuse to confront the political realities of a country still reeling from the horrors of the past.
Chris Broodryk , in his detailed study of Afrikaans cinema, explains that 'Afrikaans cinema between and [is] a cinema of political impotence, a cinema devoid of a political voice'. As Broodryk notes, Afrikaans cinema is distinct from other post-conflict cinemas worldwide as it does not demonstrate political engagement or interrogation, and is largely homogenous. South African films marketed to white Afrikaans audiences hardly ever offer historical accounts that authentically address the role of Afrikaans people in the system of apartheid, or which give nuanced, multifocal perspectives on history or the post-apartheid landscape.
By contrast, the South African queer-themed films mentioned above all directly and critically deal with issues of race and othering within South Africa, both historically, as in the case of Proteus where a white and black man are executed on Robben Island because of their physical relationship, 6 and contemporarily as with Skoonheid, While You Weren't Looking and Inxeba The Wound.
Skoonheid, as an Afrikaans film starring a mostly white, Afrikaans-speaking cast, serves as doubly challenging in the postapartheid cinematic landscape, not only representing repressed queer sexuality, but also breaking with the mainstream of Afrikaans cinema by focusing on socio-political issues of racism, sexual violence and stifling gender norms. The film, through its study of obsession, repression and the longing for intimacy through the perspective of a conservative, patriarchal, white Afrikaans-speaking man, exposes many underlying dynamics of gender, race and sexuality in post-apartheid South Africa.
The film offers a powerful lens on how repression, and identities framed within strict boundaries of desire, conduct and gendered social interactions, are linked to instances of discrimination and violence. Importantly, it seems to problematise the versions of Afrikaner masculinity which are espoused in most contemporary Afrikaans-language films Broodryk This paper discusses Hermanus's film with reference to its representation of the repressed desire for intimacy, expressed as obsession and eventually violence, and how this theme can be read as speaking to the lingering racial divisions and the othering of non-heteronormative self-expression in postapartheid South Africa.
The fact that queer realities are underrepresented in media can be seen as symptomatic of this repression within broader South African society, and the film offers a form of counter-narrative, asserting the existence of repressed queer identities in heteronormative, patriarchal spaces. As Saint-Francis Tohlang holds, queer filmmakers particularly have agency 'in shaping, creating, imagining, acting and documenting their own history in a sociopolitical context where their histories have been marginalized and silenced for decades'.
Thus, by offering representations that complicate and expand understandings of queer realities within South Africa, these filmmakers play a part in reshaping media and informing understandings of socio-political dynamics within the country. Queer cinematic cultures in South Africa were instrumental in reshaping the gay rights movement, especially after apartheid, and Ricardo Peach xi elaborates on how the Out in Africa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, an annual festival launched in the year of the country's first democratic elections in , was instrumental in fostering a public sphere for queer representation which was vital for legal change.
Patricia Pisters reinforces the importance of using cinema as a lens into understanding social dynamics, arguing in her analysis of postcolonial cinema that it functions not merely as a representation of a society, but instead 'operates as a performative speech act that plays a part in constructing reality'. In this vein, queer cinema particularly is instrumental for social change in various ways, such as fostering visibility, combatting discrimination, leading to greater human rights, presenting diverse and balanced representations, and leading to queer people gaining more autonomy in how they are represented Peach For many queer communities within South Africa, cinema offered transformative potential, and the chance to assert their rights to dignity and fair representation.
As the introduction to the program of the first Out in Africa film festival explains, even after protections for sexual minorities were included in the young democracy's constitution, there was more work to be done:. Gay rights may be in the constitution - but they're not yet in our lives What we need to do is get people talking. And how better to do this than through movies?
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Movies introduce ideas, and spark off new ones We believe this festival will give gay men, lesbians and bisexuals a chance to build their self-recognition and self-worth Peach By representing these silenced realities and the heterogeneous and complex identities and lives of queer South Africans, queer cinema can serve an important function in social change. Michael Herzfeld's concept of cultural intimacy, which is the vulnerable, tenuous, yet treasured unified identity of groups within a nation-state, and includes 'cultural embarrassment and solidarity', is also useful in understanding Francois's character in the film.
Francois represents the resistance to such intimacy, the lack of empathy to marginalised groups and the resistance to the rhetoric of the so-called rainbow nation, which South Africa was said to become after the fall of apartheid. Francois, yearning for male-male intimacy, is symbolic of these broader national fissures, as well as demonstrating one of these disunities in particular, namely the cultural exclusion and repression of queer people within South Africa.
This exclusion is shown both in how rare a film about queer realities still is in South Africa, in Francois's repression, as well as in how hostile Francois himself is towards those he considers "moffies". In addition, the lack of emotional intimacy for Francois, especially the male-male intimacy which he is shown to crave, evinces the barriers that stifling cultural mores can create.
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For Francois, the intimacy he desires never comes, and eventually, with an act of violence, the possibility for any intimacy for the protagonist and the object of his desire is severed for good. This paper discusses the techniques used to represent the lack of intimacy in the film, and link these techniques to the issues of race, gender and sexuality in South African society to show how the protagonist represents the ways in which particular iterations of Afrikaner masculinities place barriers on intimacy and limit the transcendence of societal divides.
Skoonheid 's representation of Afrikaner men and barriers to intimacy. The film focalises Francois Deon Lotz as he begins to develop an obsession with his friend's son, Christian Charlie Keegan. Francois is a white Afrikaans-speaking family man living in Bloemfontein, husband to Elena Michelle Scott and father to two daughters. Francois is depicted as being conservative and patriarchal, enacting strict control over his wife and daughters. Theo Sonnekus , in his analysis of the film, explains that Francois is for the most part the embodiment of Afrikaner ideology, which relied on strict boundaries of gender and 'machismo' to support the power of white men in the country.
This construction relied on 'the need for apartheid ideology to project a discernible image of superiority and prosperity through its most valued agents, white Afrikaner men, in order to strengthen and legitimise its racist, political agendas' Sonnekus The director of Skoonheid, Oliver Hermanus , explains his perspective in the film by noting that 'the collective guilt and subconscious need to defend their heritage are what most conservative [Afrikaner men] battle with every day', setting the groundwork for a constant policing of identity which forms the basis of Francois's conservative character.
While this might seem to undermine his reliance on machismo, these conflicting elements in Francois's character are reconciled by the strict control that Francois and the other men place on their lives and the lives of others. Francois's patriarchal role sees him exercise control over his wife and daughters in ways that come across as cold and stern.
Similarly, the group sex is stringently policed with exclusive parameters, and it is only practiced within the shroud of secrecy. The group sex comes very unexpectedly to the viewer; what seems like a scene of male bonding over beers and small talk about sport, what Nicky Falkof refers to as being 'awkwardly framed within a social discourse of heterosexual machismo', sees Francois being introduced to a new member of the group who glances suggestively at him, and transitions to group sex in a darkened room with same-sex pornography displayed on a television.
Even though the men are engaged in explicit sex acts, the scenes are not constructed as erotic, and there is no emotional intimacy shown between the men beyond their sexual pleasure.
Francois's face is not shown as the new member of the group performs oral sex on him; another man's face is shrouded in darkness as he penetrates another man on the bed next to Francois; figures move in the background noiselessly, their faces not shown. The dark, small room and the expressionless faces, mostly hidden from the view of the camera, heighten the sense of secrecy and taboo of these men's sexual activity, but also create tension in the scene. The scene is much less one of pleasure and much more one of some sinister and even disturbing undertaking.
The camera is positioned above Francois's head at one point, looking down at the figures below, a regularly employed angle in the film which demonstrates a feeling of abstraction even in seemingly "intimate" settings. The shot periodically shifts to an outside scene, to the brightly-lit surroundings of the farmhouse in which the men have sex, with the camera stalking the house, indicating the need to maintain complete isolation from the community. The composition of this scene demonstrates the repression of the male-male desire which these men face; the only place they can demonstrate their same-sex attraction is when they are hidden in darkness, confined in a small room.
The implication is that these encounters never bring any sense of closeness between these men, and never amount to more than sex. What is significant about this group-sex arrangement is that the boundaries placed on male-male interactions are not only externally imposed by an unaccepting community forcing these men into secrecy and repression, but the men also enforce their own boundaries on their desire from within the private space. When one of the white men who is part of the group, Gideon, brings along a companion, a dark-skinned man who is effeminate in presentation, the other men are outraged.
When Gideon tries to explain himself, Francois says of the dark-skinned companion, 'Look at him. As this is shown to be a repeat offence by Gideon, he is expelled from their group.
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These boundaries on desire construct the group as not only exclusionary, but also as framed within discourses of patriarchal masculinity and racial separateness, two themes pertinent to the South African post-apartheid landscape. Only white, "masculine" and "straight" men are allowed to participate in the group sex encounters, even though the samesex encounters would undercut the definition of "straightness". These men define themselves within very rigid limits, and these limits, ostensibly, are not threatened by their sexual behaviour.
As Falkof ; emphasis in original notes, Francois's 'apparent deviance is expressed within his Afrikanerness. His violent desire and consequent degeneration are shocking because they reference South Africa's earlier version of hegemonic masculinity: the wealthy, successful, modern yet traditional Afrikaner patriarch'. The men do not consider themselves "moffies", and actively exclude anyone who would fall under their definition of this label. They still consider themselves separate from, and by implication superior to, 'coloureds'. These boundaries on their sexual activities suggest that these men are reinforcing aspects of their identities of power even in the setting that performs same-sex sexuality; they are reifying the power associated with their whiteness, their maleness and their self-defined "straightness" even through male-male sex.