In many African countries, homosexuality is criminalized. “Call me Kuchu,” an award-winning documentary about the Ugandan LGBT community is being screened in cinemas around Germany to promote tolerance and human rights.
A news report about Ugandan transgender activist, Victor Mukasa, who sued the Ugandan police general for police harassment and won, prompted the making of the documentary. British filmmaker Malika Zouhali-Worrall and American Katherine Fairfax-Wright first read about the case in 2008 and were fascinated with the topic.
“We were just intrigued to learn that while [lesbian and gays] were being persecuted by the government, […] the judiciary was independent enough to recognize that even LGBT people deserve basic constitutional rights,” Zouhali-Worrall told Deutsche Welle.
The filmmakers traveled to Uganda and met gay rights advocate David Kato – the first man come out as a homosexual in Uganda. Kato and others who were being persecuted by the government became important characters in the documentary.
“David […] understood the power of media to help relay their message and especially the power of international media to kind of get their stories out there,” Zouhali-Worrall said.
In Uganda, stories about the gay and lesbian community tend to be covered locally only after they are reported internationally because local media might be putting itself at risk if it is seen to be supporting the community, she added.
Christianity important to Ugandan gay community
In January 2011, David Kato was murdered. Even though the murderer was not caught, many suspect Kato's death was related to his activities on behalf of gay rights. And much like his life, Kato's funeral was filled with controversy. In "Call Me Kuchu," Kato's coffin is carried off by activists while a pastor criticizes him for having been gay. Another local priest who advocates LGBT rights ends up performing the last rites.
“It's not a matter of becoming more liberal and forgetting your religious faith, it's a matter of how they live their lives as good Christians and are accepted by their church,” said filmmaker Katherine Fairfax-Wright.
And this is something that audiences in other countries, like the US, might relate to, she noted. American evangelical pastors, who consider homosexuality unchristian, have supported efforts to clamp down on the LGBT community. In May, gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) sued American evangelist, Scott Lively for inciting hate of gays and lesbians in the country. Documentary unlikely to be shown in Uganda
Since premiering at the Berlinale in February, “Call me Kuchu” has been shown at film festivals around the world. And it has received prizes and recognition - for being possibly the first film to delve into the lives of the Ugandan LGBT community. But few Ugandans may get to see the film.
“We are not gonna push for it to be screened … but if [the Kuchu Community] really feel the need for it to be screened or the need for our presence, then we'll just go along with it as much as seems sensible,” Fairfax-Wright said.
Last week, British theater producer David Cecil was arrested after organizing productions of a play about a gay man in Uganda. He was released on bail and now faces up to two years in prison for allegedly promoting gay rights.
But Fairfax-Wright and Zouhali-Worrall do not fear returning to Uganda. They are more concerned about the safety of the activists who appear in the film. The head of the organization Sexual Minorities Uganda, Frank Mugisha, agrees.
“It might create more violence in the LGBT community because it exposes very many people's faces who don't mind to be out, but the outcome might be really bad,” he told Deutsche Welle. Anti-gay policies on the increase
Frank Mugisha believes that the political climate against homosexuality is increasing in his country. Last month, a dozen people were detained by authorities following the Uganda's first pride event, he said. Also, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, several workshops by LGBT rights activists have been raided by government officials. This, along with a bill that may introduce the death penalty for gay sex, are pushing the community further underground and hampering efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.
But the situation in Uganda is not unique. Homosexuality is criminalized in several other African countries. And the LGBT community is being persecuted. Last month, the offices of a gay rights group in Zimbabwe were raided. In Cameroon, more than ten people have been put on trial on charges of homosexuality since 2011. And a bill banning marriage between people of the same sex has been introduced in Liberia.
Still, the filmmakers hope that international attention can help the struggle of gays and lesbians in Uganda and elsewhere.