The new documentary “Who I Am Not” will probably fly under the radar at this year’s South by Southwest Film and TV Festival. It doesn’t have the glitz factor and focuses on two people from South Africa. It’s the directorial debut of a Romanian woman, Tunde Skovran. And it’s about a topic that many people simply prefer to ignore.
That topic, which will probably make right-wing Texas legislators irate, is people who are known as intersex. “Who I Am Not” takes us on a journey of self-discovery for Sharon-Rose Khumalo, a South African beauty queen, and Dimakatso Sebidi, a male-presenting intersex activist.
The two subjects could not be more different on the surface. Yet they become friends and share the reality that they were born between male and female. If you’re wondering what that means, then you’re probably not alone. But it can mean very different things for different people.
In Sharon’s case, she has the good looks to be a model, but her world is turned upside down when she finds out that she has male chromosomes — a slow realization in the 10th grade that she wasn’t having any periods like the other girls.
Dimakatso, meanwhile, was diagnosed as being neither male nor female upon birth, mainly because of the presence of what doctors and family members believed was a penis. Surgeries followed, all while Dimakatso was an infant. And this has led Dimakatso to have hard feelings about the past.
Dimakatso is the most outspoken character in the film and rejects using the term hermaphrodite as being the equivalent of calling a gay man a fag. Dimakatso has a supportive partner, Khanyisile Patricia Ngobeni, but loses the support of a sister after deciding to have surgery to remove breasts, which have become droopy after the end of estrogen treatments.
Sharon, meanwhile, struggles to find a partner. We see a date with one man who says he wants to have a large family, but when Sharon says she can’t have children, he bails rather quickly.
The documentary asserts that about 150 million people worldwide are born with intersex traits. And, remarkably, the director gained the trust of her two subjects with intimate details of their lives.
In press notes, Skovran says of Dimakatso, “When I asked them why they trust4ed me with to tell their story, they answered: ‘The intersex community is not limited to South Africa. It has many colors and nationalities. This is beyond male-female, black-white, m rich-poor divide. The film you are making is about all of us, and I hope it will help others understand that we are one.”
Skovran says she spent the past four years working with her subjects. “I felt that it was not fair to just observe my characters. I had to offer them something in return for their trust. I introduced group therapy, psychodrama, acting and even dream interpretation techniques in our work. That strengthened our relationship, helped build their self-confidence and gave the joint work meaning for them, as well.”
The result is rather remarkable, even though it will obviously be controversial in certain circles. It’s also notable that Patricia Arquette is one of the executive producers.
“Who I Am Not” premiered March 11 at SXSW. It will scream again at 6 p.m. March 12 at the Alamo South and at 11:15 a.m. March 16 at the Alamo South.