Friday, March 24, 2023

WHO I AM NOT**** - BFI Flare 2023

WHO I AM NOT is an intimate and heart-breaking portrait of two intersex people struggling to find a place in contemporary South Africa. It is directed by Tunde Skovran with empathy, economy and a quiet but powerful voice. 

The first protagonist is Sharon-Rose Khumalo, whose chromosomes say she is male, but who presents as female. In fact, she presents as "hyper" female, becoming Miss South Africa.  She is self-aware that her desire to be publicly acknowledged as a beautiful woman could be the result of trying to prove something to society, and to fight against the biological reality that she can't conceive. At the end of the film she courageously pronounces herself to be a woman, in a moment that's meant to be cathartic, but given all we have seen her struggle with in terms of infertility, it seems a tragic or compromised victory at best.

The second protagonist is Dimakatso Sebidi, whose chromosomes say they are female, but who presents as intersex and who resists society's attempts to pin them into one box or other.  Their journey is embedded in that of  their family, and the desperately sad cloud of mystery surrounding surgeries their parents subjected them to at birth. Through the course of the film, we see Dimakatso actually find out the facts of their biological reality and chromosomes, and have to come to terms with the fact that there are some things they won't ever know. The most poignant conversation is with their father, who asks for forgiveness for the surgeries, arguing that he was just trying to do what was best.

This conversation brings us back to the fact that contemporary South Africa is a country where religious belief is still common and profoundly impacts people's view of sex, gender and acceptance.  It's telling that Dimakatso's father asks God to forgive him, leaving a disenfranchised Dimakatso to ask about their agency in forgiveness.  I also found it fascinating to interrogate how people come to turns with those born intersex: if God creates all, didn't he also create the Intersex? If they are an abberation, then God is fallible. The religiosity extends to everyday interactions.  A small business owner explains to Dimakatso that he can't employ them because how would he refer to them?  They answer, just with our name.  This is clearly something he can't wrap his head around and he rejects her job application while wishing her a "blessed day".  

WHO I AM NOT has a running time of 105 minutes. It played SXSW and BFI Flare 2023.

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