n Image & Text : a Journal for Design - The boundaries of desire and intimacy in post-apartheid South African queer film : Oliver Hermanus’s Skoonheid

Volume 31 Number 1
  • ISSN : 1020-1491


South African cinema is still dominated, both in terms of number and commercial success, by films featuring white Afrikaans-speaking characters. These films are mostly politically voiceless, ignoring the contentious racial and economic dynamics in the country, and they fail to represent queer realities. Skoonheid [Beauty] (2011), the powerful South African film directed by Oliver Hermanus, challenges this trend and offers a portrayal of sexualities and racial hostilities which are often silenced or ignored in mainstream cinema. The film depicts a white Afrikaans-speaking man named François, who becomes obsessed with his friend’s son, Christian. François has secret sex with a group of other white Afrikaans-speaking men on a farm near Bloemfontein. The group has strict rules that “moffies” (queers) and “kleurlinge” (“coloureds” or people of colour) are not welcome to join their sexual gatherings. These regulations and the secrecy that enshrouds same-sex attraction in the film belie François’s longing for intimacy, a longing which develops into an obsession with Christian that ends violently. In this paper, I locate the film within the broader trends of Afrikaans cinema and queer cinema in the country. I then perform a reading of the film to show how it offers an important voice to repressed sexualities, and exposes some of the hostilities which underlie relations in post-apartheid South African society. I focus on how intimacy, both cultural and personal, is impossible for François, and the film reflects how these intimacies are threatened by hostilities and marginalisation within South African society.

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