Every male in South Africa must complete compulsory military service. The military is not for everyone. I am not sure it is even for anyone, but that is a debate for another time. Here the film Moffie, directed and co-written by Oliver Hermanus (Beauty, The Endless River), tells of the cruelty and homophobia which a young gay white male has to deal with while undergoing his military service.
Growing up in 1981 in South Africa, Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer – The Kissing Booth 2) is 16 and white so he must undergo his compulsory military service. At this time the white minority government in South Africa is engaged in a conflict on the Southern Angolan border. They want to defend apartheid. So the army is tasked with defending the regime. They see the threat of Communism as strong and “die swart genaar” (the so-called black danger) as their biggest enemies.
Communism and blacks are not what are going to be most dangerous for Nicholas. The fact that he is a closeted homosexual will be the biggest threat to him. Not only is his training going to be inhumane and brutal, but he also has to watch his back if people find out he is gay. This becomes even harder when he finds himself attracted to and close to another recruit.
This is an adaptation of the memoir by Andre-Carl van Der Merwe. A true story. Clearly shows the extent of the institutionalized homophobia within our society. This is probably doubly true in areas which are male oriented like sports and the military. In Afrikaans the word moffie means to be weak, effeminate or illegal. So it is not a word you want to be called. Every society has a word like it. An examination of what it means to be a man happens here. How masculinity can be a prison.
Several moral issues are examined in Hermanus’s film. One is the toxic nature of machismo. Societies based upon it are dangerous for a number of people like women and homosexuals. Also, how when people are forced to stay deep in the closet for fear or harm or even death they will themselves turn towards behaviour they might not have previously. Nicholas engages in behaviour of this sort to keep safe and stay invisible. Herd mentality. We have heard over the past year a lot about herd immunity. While that may be a good thing, herd mentality is usually not. It is like we cannot handle peer pressure. We cannot do what is right when those around us aren’t. Most stay quiet or even engage in the same behaviour. Blind nationalism. It is dangerous. That we do not question our government and their behaviour can lead to things like the Holocaust and apartheid.
Very few punches are pulled here. Several sections of the film are hard to watch. Brutality of different varieties and from various sources are realistically depicted.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival.