South Africa has chosen Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s “Knuckle City” as its official entry in the Oscars’ International Feature Film category. The movie had its international premiere this week in the Contemporary World Cinema section in Toronto.
“Knuckle City” tells the story of Dudu Nyakama (Bongile Mantsai), an aging boxer whose shot at a big prize fight offers him one last chance at saving his family but drags him into the criminal underbelly of the gritty township he’s spent his life trying to escape. The film’s selection for Oscars contention was announced Tuesday by the National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF). It world-premiered at the Durban Intl. Film Festival.
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Qubeka was also chosen last year to represent South Africa in the Oscar race, with “Sew the Winter to My Skin.” For “Knuckle City,” his fourth feature, he returned to his childhood home of Mdantsane, the township known as South Africa’s boxing mecca, to explore how poverty and toxic masculinity perpetuate the cycle of violence that ensnares so many of its inhabitants.
“When I looked at boxers, doing a lot of research about the fighters, it always seemed like the fight at home was always bigger than the actual real fight – the opponent that they were fighting. The day-to-day seems to always defeat these guys,” Qubeka told Variety ahead of the film’s Durban premiere. “And I asked myself, ‘What is the source? What is the cause?’ And we found the topic around masculinity, and its being frustrated and not having a fundamental outlet, as a key source of this toxicity.”
Qubeka added: “Boxing is the playground; it’s the metaphor. But beyond that, you look at the frustration on a social level – this idea of a sense of pride, a sense of self, but how does it play out economically? Do you have a car? Do you have a house? Do you pay the rent? Are you looking after your children?….A lot of these guys don’t have the skills to deal with life.”
“Knuckle City” was written by Qubeka and produced by Yellowbone Entertainment. AAA Entertainment is handling world sales.
“The film is as hard-hitting as its title suggests,” said NFVF CEO Makhosazana Khanyile, who described Qubeka as a “fearless storyteller.” “It’s quintessentially South African but also a very universal tale, and touches on so many themes, making it dark and relatable all at once.”