Imagine being forced to defend “apartheid,” your country’s policy of discrimination of blacks. Imagine being a young man inculcated into an army of hatred, where trainers start with cruelty and descend to sadism. Now, add homophobia to those aspects of life in South Africa in 1981. The three ingredients define this fine film.
Moffie is derogatory Afrikaans for “effeminate” in the bully jargon of the times. It’s what Nicholas has been called all his adolescence. When he is forced to train for two years for the South African army, he tries desperately to be what others define as masculine, that is, unyielding, mean, craven, unloving.
Nick is being made ready to fight on the Angolian border against the “black danger.” But every day, he has to fight the secret danger of being outed as a homosexual, for “moffies” are “sent away,” brutalized in hospitals rather than on training grounds. So what must he do? Go along to get along? Follow conscription through to becoming inhumane? Mirror the bellicose lieutenant as if that defines manhood? Or succumb to the seduction of a fellow because it offers sweetness in the midst of racism and hot horrors.
As Nick, Kai Luke Brummer makes manifest these challenges in a young gay man’s life in 1981 in South Africa. His antagonist is played to the hilt by Michael Kirch. Ryan de Villiers plays Nick’s crush.
Oliver Hermanus directed Moffie with sensitivity including in the flashbacks to Nick’s teenage humiliation in a locker room and with scenes of bold racism. Braam du Toit’s music, from arias to organ fugues, underscores the trauma and drama.
Hermanus’ film defines the horrors of apartheid and homophobia, the power of silence and secrets, and the ravages of seeking a red badge of courage — or a pink one.