Ugandan tabloids & US missionaries are campaigning to make ‘aggravated homosexuality’ a hanging offence. One leading activist has already been murdered. We speak to two filmmakers about the LGBT activists fighting for their rights and lives in Uganda.
Call Me Kuchu by Katherine Fairfax Wright and MalikaZouhali-Worrall started out as the portrait of a courageous group of ‘Kuchu’ (as LGBT men & women are known) activists, led by the charismatic David Kato, fighting for equality. However, when Kato is brutally murdered halfway through filming the story acquires an unforeseeable weight and significance; the reality of life for the Kuchu community in Uganda could not be portrayed in any more clear a light.
Call Me Kuchu also documents the absurd level of misinformation propagated by fear-mongering politicians and press in Uganda as well as by visiting American evangelists. While being accused of sinister ‘recruitment’ tactics, the gay community is also linked to terrorism and branded as a Western conspiracy. Kate and Malika described their approach to making the film, and what they now hope to achieve with it.
The events in the documentary take on their own momentum, but what was your original plan?
Malika: It was weird, we were researching it and speaking with David Kato, the main character in the film, when the anti-homosexuality bill was introduced, so we were like, ‘Oh shit, we’ve got to get there really quickly’. I guess the only plan we had was to a) show the situation on the ground through individual stories, then b) see what would happen with this bill.
It was very open ended, either they might beat the bill through their activism, or it might be a film about the bill passing and life becoming terrible for these people. There were definitely points when, before David died, we really had no idea what the story was or what was going to happen, we were just waiting and filming whatever we could.
At the time David died we were in the process of planning a six week shoot to get more material on him, because we were starting to realise he was the main character but also feeling like we didn’t have enough [footage] of him and what he did. But it ended up being a shoot to examine the impact of his death on his friends and family.
In spite of the repressive legislation, is this also a progressive moment for the gay community in Uganda?
M: It’s never quite one thing or the other. On the one hand they’re involved in all sorts of court cases: in Uganda they are currently suing the Minister for Ethics and Integrity for violating their constitutional right to assemble, because he keeps shutting down their meetings. They’re also suing American evangelist, Scot Lively, in a federal court in Massachusetts. It’s awesome, they’re more empowered than they’ve ever been, and more forceful than they’re ever been.
But on the other hand, the day-to-day situation is as tough as ever. The fact that they’re getting much more attention puts their normal lives under threat. Naomi, who was in the film, has left Uganda and sought asylum in Sweden, a bunch of other activists have left Uganda now because they don’t think it’s safe to be there anymore.
Fellow campaigner Long Jones makes that horribly prophetic comment about the ‘blood of martyrs’ when he and David and are at the UN…
Kate: Those are the moments when you go ‘Holy shit!’ It probably passed us by at the time, or we were like, ‘Oh that will be a nice sound bite in the scene’. But you don’t realise the weight of it until you’re in the editing room, looking at the footage after David had died. David was sitting there nodding his head as Jones said this, little did he know that just a few months later it would be him.
M: At the time it was like, ‘That’s a bit of a hyperbolic way of telling everyone’, because he was just saying that that they weren’t doing enough. It was true, but it seemed a bit of an extreme way to phrase it. But after David died it suddenly had all these other meanings.
The pastor’s homophobic rant at David’s funeral was a terrible moment. Were you prepared for something like that?
M: Everyone there, including David’s mother, expected the pastor to give a normal sermon that you would deliver for anyone who had just died. Then he decided to take the opportunity to say that David was doing these awful things and he should have repented and you all should repent. It was kind of horrific when he took a serious left turn.
Are you taking the film to Uganda?
K: We wanted to include those people who appear in the film in the decision process as to how widely the film should be distributed. We showed the main activists the film to make sure that they signed off on it. They were all very impressed by it. Then it was used for the opening night of the film festival that was part of the Uganda’s first ever Gay Pride in late July/August.
It was exciting for us to know that they felt strongly enough about the film to have it kick off their first ever Gay Pride, so that was great. And they’re taking the lead as to how else they want to use the film in their work in Uganda. The Bishop and other members of the activist community want it for their work, so we’re just trying to figure out the specifics of that.
Call Me Kuchuis currently on release in the UK. It has won Best International Feature at Hotdocs, Toronto; and Teddy Best Documentary Award and Cinema Fairbindet prize at the Berlinale 2012