VENICE, Italy – South African director Oliver Hermanus hopes his new film about young soldiers during apartheid will help open up a conversation about what he calls “toxic masculinity” and LGBT rights.
Set in 1981, Hermanus’ drama, provocatively called “Moffie” a derogatory slang term for being gay, shows a group of white teenage boys called to complete their two years’ compulsory military service.
After a brutal training regime they are sent to fight on the frontline in a border dispute with Angola.
Hermanus tells the story of young white men struggling emotionally and physically to deal with army life.
“This film is challenging in a way because 25 years later after the end of apartheid, I have chosen to make a film that tries to explore the trauma of white teenagers,” Hermanus told Reuters after his film screened at the Venice Film Festival.
The film follows 18-year-old Nicholas who not only has army life to contend with but is also coming to terms with his sexuality and feelings he develops for a male soldier.
Hermanus is unsure how the film will be received in South Africa where he says “moffie” is still a slur used in newspaper headlines but he hopes the film can help bring about cohesion.
“I would like the conversation to be about the trauma that toxic masculinity that we need to address in South Africa, I would like it to be about the treatment of the LGBT community and I hope with any film that I make about South Africa … that it expands our understanding of each other,” he said.
While South Africa is the only African country to have legalised same-sex marriage, Hermanus said the LGBT community “is still struggling to be heard, still experiencing horrific, horrific abuse and shaming”.
Kai Luke Brummer who plays Nicholas said his father went into to the army and had never spoken about the experience until Brummer made this film.
“I think the way that Oliver told the story and him himself being a person of colour … we are forced into an understanding and for instance like my father there’s a lot of things that I didn’t understand about him and now … after going through the process, I have started to learn more about him and the way that he operates,” Brummer told Reuters.
(Reporting by Sarah Mills; Editing by Alison Williams)