Last year, Scott Mills filmed a documentary for BBC Three entitled The World’s Worst Place to be Gay?, which intended to shed light on the plight of LGBT activists in Uganda. Ultimately, the film fell short, foregrounding Mills’ own opinions and marginalising those he intended to give voice to. Call Me Kuchu, meanwhile, holds back on an authorial voice, providing a platform for its subjects to shine and their cause to be known.
The film charts the actions of SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) as they combat the tabloid newspaper Rolling Stone, which outs gay Ugandans and calls for their executions, and the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill and its main proponent, MP David Bahati. The most compelling of SMUG’s members is David Kato who, prior to his murder in January 2011, was one of the most important and outspoken LGBT activists in Uganda. Kato’s charm, warmth and kindness drive the film forward, and his impassioned advocacy helped to raise the plight of gay Ugandans from a gay rights to a human rights issue. Kato should be seen, in years to come, as a martyr to the cause – a Ugandan Harvey Milk.
In a series of newsreels, we see a BBC World News debate which poses the question ‘Is Homosexuality Un-African?’, and it would be easy to jump on a liberal bandwagon which criticises African attitudes towards Homosexuality as uncivilised. Yet Call Me Kuchu highlights the worrying fact that much of the hatred which has led to the writing of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been incited by American Evangelican Christians who, like second-wave colonial missionaries, led rallies to incite homophobia under the guise of preserving Uganda’s righteousness. There is a political and religious agenda unveiled here which extends well beyond Uganda, and takes a distinctly sinister bent. Indeed, in contrast to these religious zealots, some of the most powerful moments in the film come from Bishop Senyonjo, who refuses to follow the doctrine of his church and condemn gay people, losing his title as a result.
It is very easy, in this country, to believe that the fight for LGBT rights has been won. Call Me Kuchu serves to show the world that, until these rights are universal, and the lives of gay people are not at risk because of the simple nature of their sexuality, the battle is not yet over.
Words: Jack Casey