Jeni Morris reviews Call me Kuchu, a documentary about LGBT issues in Uganda directed by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright.
This documentary gives a personalised yet balanced view into the LGBT community of Uganda. Filmed before the signing into law of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, which amongst other things legalised the death penalty for certain homosexuals, this documentary provides a detailed background of the homophobia entrenched within Ugandan society, offering a better and more level understanding of how LGBT people are viewed and why they are viewed in these ways. After watching the film, I struggle to understand how the directors managed to keep from getting too emotionally involved in such a harrowing issue, but I respect them for having done so successfully. Zouhali-Worrall and Wright interview a variety of people involved in the LGBT rights movement in Uganda, each one —be they homosexual (“kuchu”), advocate, lawyer, politician or preacher— giving their personalised and candid accounts. For those who know little about Ugandan culture, like myself, the scope of these interviews and their subjects allowed me to get a stronger grasp of the sheer complexity of the situation and how each individual navigates their way through it.
Whilst delving a little into the explanations for homophobia, the documentary centres around a court case between openly gay Ugandan LGBT advocate David Kato and the Ugandan magazine Rolling Stone (no relation to the stalwart U.S. music magazine.) As the story unfolds, we glimpse the world of Kato, his friends and family, as well as the world of the Rolling Stone Editor and his employees who are out to attack him. The extent to which the magazine will go to infiltrate the LGBT community —to expose and marginalise them, isolating them from even their own families— is quite upsetting and enraging.
The film shows how a number of the LGBT community’s marginalized members have created strong emotional bonds with one another, as well as how they remain strong together and support one another. It is pretty uplifting to see how positive and funny they manage to be despite their daily struggles, anxieties and anger. I was particularly struck by the stories how in Uganda, even before this latest Act of Parliament, any person who knows of but does not report a homosexual is subject to judicial punishment. The fact that family members and even a Christian preacher remain loyal to their homosexual family and friends merits considerable respect.
However, not all LGBT supporters are angels. The smug and gleefully giggly Editor of Rolling Stone makes the stomach curdle when he says “human rights do not mean gay rights in Uganda”, and his lifelong mission —his calling to terrorise homosexuals— comes across as sad and pathetic. Without wanting to spoil the end of the film, David Kato was sadly murdered in 2011 by an attacker. It was thought to be motivated by his increasing activism and his position as an openly gay Ugandan.
The Ugandan government and their associates desire to break free from western influence, and yet by persecuting the LGBT community and claiming that homosexuality is an immoral, sinful choice against God’s will, they are simply advocating the kind of beliefs which they first encountered from the mouths of Western missionaries during and after colonial times. The Ugandan government (as opposed to the Ugandan populace, just to be clear) is, arguably, enslaving itself. As a result, this begs the question: who actually has more freedom —the Ugandan government and their associates, or the LGBT community? The film seeks to elicit just such responses as these; it seeks to show the rest of the world what life is really like if you gay and Ugandan.
Photo credit: Cinedigm Entertainment Group