Political regimes built on segregation and hate are multi-faceted in their control, violence and indoctrination. These regimes force a sense of both internal and external oppression based on their ideology, using divide-and-conquer tactics to ensure people who do not fit their idealised mould are targeted. These regimes have existed throughout human history, but the persecution and control they employ is not always visible to outsiders. This was the case for many LGBTQ+ people during the Apartheid regime in South Africa, as Oliver Hermanus’ new film Moffie reflects. Based on the 2006 novel by André Carl van der Merwe, the word Moffie is the Afrikaans word for ‘faggot’, a word that continues to stir strong feelings and emotions across cultures. In South Africa, the label “Moffie” was used to devastating effect as society labelled individuals and groups as deviant or perverted while embracing toxic ideas of what it meant to be a man.
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By the late 1980s, the Apartheid regime in South Africa had begun to face global scrutiny as international campaigns to boycott South African goods and services grew in strength. However, despite this, P.W Botha’s Nationalist Party held firm in elections, allowing the apartheid regime to continue to strengthen its iron grip. Meanwhile, fears of a communist invasion led to war with Namibia, Zambia, and Angola, with the government conscripting all-white South African men over 16 to their cause. Nick (Kai Luke Brummer) is a sensitive young man who has been conscripted for military service in the fight against an invisible foe. His train journey to the military camp he is about to call home burns with everything Nick hates, from casual racism to masculine bravado and homophobia. Thankfully, Sachs (Matthew Vey) appears to feel the same as they support each other on the journey to a training camp that will thrive on indoctrination, fear and control.
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As Nick attempts to settle into camp life, he is greeted with nothing but pain, hiding his sexuality due to the fear of being labelled bullied, abused and transferred to the mysterious Ward 22, a place of rumoured medical experimentation, castration and Aversion therapy – its true horrors only coming to light many years later. Nick has witnessed boys being taken to the ward, never to return and knows his sexuality must remain a secret for his own safety.
While Hermanus’ film focuses its lens on the experience of white young men, the racism and bigotry of Apartheid South Africa haunt every scene, as do conversations of the intersectional experience of oppression. Here, we play witness to black people and LGBTQ+ people treated as objects of ridicule, persecution and hate in a society built on racism, homophobia and xenophobia. Equally, discussions on masculinity and the need for the state to mould young men in its image are striking and powerful.
At the heart of the film, Kai Luke Brummer offers us a stunning central performance that demonstrates the emotional cost of individual and social oppression on young men building their sense of self. Many will draw parallels between Hermanus’ film and the horror of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, but Moffie is a very different movie in its core messages. This isn’t a film simply about the indoctrination and oppression of armed forces built on toxicity; it’s a film about state persecution and control. As a result, Moffie offers us a powerful and emotional viewing experience as it reflects the complex interface between oppression and freedom within states built on division and hate.
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Moffie is available to rent now on Curzon Home Cinema