Tünde Skovrán’s debut feature Who I Am Not focuses on two people within the intersex community, telling their stories with great eloquence and care.
A film dedicated to around 150 million people inevitably has a certain pressure weighing on it. Such a film has to tell the stories and lives of these people with compassion and understanding, and it also must have bravery in capturing their most vulnerable moments. Who I Am Not, which tells the story of two intersex people in South Africa, does exactly this, navigating the difficult instances of interphobia alongside rapturous, momentous moments of self-discovery. This exquisitely realised cinéma vérité documentary occasionally veers into experimental styles with uneven outcomes, but its evocative and unerring portrayal of the intersex community existing in an obtusely binary world strikes a deep chord on a very human level.
The focus of Who I Am Not is on Sharon-Rose Khumalo, a beauty queen with male genetics, and Dimakatso Sebidi, a male-presenting intersex activist. Their identities might differ, but they connect with similar feelings of alienation, mistreatment, and lack of belonging in society. As a viewer, we are respectfully invited into their lives by director Tünde Skovrán, whose patient, observational documentary style always ensures these two people are centred with compassion. Even in Who I Am Not’s most personal moments, the camera’s presence never feels intrusive.
Skovrán occasionally veers into more experimental territory, which has differing effects. Framing Sharon-Rose and Dimakatso through the visuals of the surrounding environment, such as rippling water or water droplets, is an interesting turn that inverts nature and challenges preconceived ideas of what is ‘normal’. Moments such as these reflect both of their long, difficult searches for identity, where their genetics or specific sex organs seem to narrowly define who they are. Other occasions, such as capturing a character in a swimming pool with ambient sound effects and ethereal lighting, feel more cloying and forced.
Despite these shortcomings, Skovrán maintains her focus firmly on Sharon-Rose and Dimakatso throughout Who I Am Not, which results in a deeply personal, highly potent look at a community of people who generally have little exposure to the public. Sharon-Rose identifies as a woman, but her XY chromosomes make her question this identity, as well as restricting her from having children. Dimakatso, born with both male and female genitalia, similarly struggles to find their place in society, seeing themselves as neither gender. Simple tasks such as job interviews become impossible, such is the stigma and ignorance surrounding intersex. Sex and identity and their inextricable links are laid bare in Who I Am Not.
Who I Am Not works on a number of levels. It is reflective of society’s gross obsession with fitting people into the binary classification of male or female; an unnerving scene early in the film sees young schoolchildren explicitly taught that these two genders are the only two. Furthermore, Who I Am Not highlights how others can threaten our agency over our own bodies, and how important this control over what is theirs is for each and every person in the world. As we navigate through these eloquent, powerful observations, we are always situated within the worlds of both Sharon-Rose and Dimakatso. Their journeys of discovery, which even surprise themselves at times, become strong mouthpieces for these wider societal issues, as well as a beautiful celebration of being true to who you are.
Who I Am Not was screened at the 2023 BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival on 21-22 March, 2023. Read our BFI Flare reviews!