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From a South African Slur to a Scathing Drama about Toxic Masculinity

Debuting in the US this week, South African film ‘Moffie,’ tells a complex story through the eyes of a military recruit during the apartheid era 1980s. What makes the film all the more layered is that the director, Oliver Hermanus, is of mixed race and was tasked with depicting the victimization of white men by apartheid. “Moffie” is Afrikaans slang for “faggot,” and the film, which is based on André Carl van der Merwe’s autobiographical novel of the same name, attempts a bold gesture in reclaiming epithet as an emblem of power. It’s 1981, South Africa, which means it’s not okay to be a “moffie”; effeminacy is a sign of weakness, and being gay is also illegal. It’s also a moment of compulsory military conscription that all (white) boys over the age of 16 must endure, and so that means, as the film begins, Nicholas Van de Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) is readying to ship off to defend colonized land. On its face, the war is between the white minority government and Angola, whose Communism the South African Defense Force wants to stop from spreading; but really, the atrocities as seen inflicted in this movie are governed by the power-seeking regime of Apartheid, and not any real threat.