My fellow Offender Anderson Le, who is the head programmers for the Hawaii International Film Festival, invited me to serve on the feature documentary jury during last year’s fest. I’m grateful he asked me for a number of reasons (including the fact the fest takes place in beautiful Oahu), but especially because it gave me the chance to watch some great documentaries I might otherwise not have been exposed to. And one of them was Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s moving Call Me Kuchu.
The film, which is currently in theaters in New York and Los Angeles, documents Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and the activists who fought against it including David Kato, the first openly gay man in that country. Kato was murdered in January 2011 during production on the film.
While we’re still debating issues like same-sex marriage in the U.S., it’s even more disheartening to see what life is like in Uganda for the LGBT community (referred to as the kuchus) where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by sentences that include serving 15 years in prison and, for women, the practice of “curative rape” i.e. being raped to turn you straight.
The bill under question would have made homosexuality a crime punishable by death with additional provisions including prison sentences for anyone who knows a homosexual and does not turn him or her in to the authorities. While Kato and his fellow activists defeat the bill in the film, the issue is once again very much alive as the Ugandan parliament has recently reintroduced the bill. Let me repeat that—if the bill were to become law, you would be executed for being gay or jailed for knowing anyone who was gay.
What’s most disturbing about the film are the interviews with the proponents of the bill including Giles Muhame, the editor of the tabloid Rolling Stone (not to be confused with the decidedly left-leaning American magazine), whose sole journalistic purpose seems to be outing those who are, or suspected to be, gay—often leading to those individuals being ostracized, harassed or even attacked/killed by friends, family and strangers alike. The way that Muhame justifies his publication’s efforts as a calling to protect the people of Uganda is disgusting and it’s hard to believe anyone would hold such opinions until you realize that he’s just reflecting views that the majority shares.
But what’s moving and ultimately inspiring about the film are the stories of Kato and his fellow LGBT activists who are literally risking their lives on a daily basis to bring about change to their country. The filmmakers really do a great job of capturing all aspects of their lives so we see them as the three-dimensional people the opposition refuses to recognize them as.
In light of the reintroducing of anti-gay legislation and the murder of Kato, it’s hard not to see Call Me Kuchu through a profoundly depressing lens, but what makes it ultimately hopeful are these stories of the brave men and women who continue to fight on (including heterosexual Archbishop Christopher Senyonjo and his belief that God loves all people)—refusing to let those who would stand in the way of progress win at any cost.
In a summer season full of movies where superheroes vanquish evil against insurmountable odds, Call Me Kuchu presents us with a different breed of hero fighting to vanquish an evil that’s just as formidable as a Kryptonian general with God-like powers–a fight that’s just as dramatic but with bigger and more real stakes.