In 2011, Oliver Hermanus's Skoonheid / Beauty became the first Afrikaans film to screen at Cannes. Depicting a white Afrikaner patriarch whose life is thrown into disorder when he becomes infatuated with the son of an old friend from the army, the film links the racial and cultural essentialism that informs some versions of South African whiteness with coercive heteronormativity and homophobia. My analysis begins with a scene in which the protagonist rejects a “colored” man on the grounds that he is gay; I argue that this rejection stems from a desire to evade and exclude the black, colored, and queer identity formations that trouble his self-definition with their heterogeneity and their claims to shared concerns and a shared history. Beauty challenges and deconstructs the linked racial and sexual identities that are the legacy of apartheid, but also affirms the authority of colored people to speak to the social and political significance of public queer life in South Africa. I locate the film's critique of homophobic ethno-nationalism in relation to three themes: the ideological construction of “colored-ness” in relation to whiteness and Afrikaans-ness; intergenerational conflict around the expression of cultural and sexual freedoms; and the racially divided history of the struggle for LGBTQI rights in South Africa. I argue that Hermanus reads whiteness back to itself, but also empowers his characters of color to “animate the equality provisions” of South Africa's constitution, drawing attention to the “cultural labor” of LGBTQI communities of color during and after apartheid.
|Number of pages||23|
|Publication status||Published - 2020|
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies
- Visual Arts and Performing Arts
- Literature and Literary Theory