Call me Kuchu

Issue section: 
(374)

Directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall


Release date: 2 November

This gripping new documentary follows a group of Ugandan LGBT activists as they campaign against an attempt to push an anti-homosexuality bill being pushed through the east African country's parliament in 2010 and 2011.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda. The new law would punish anyone who did not report LGBT people and would introduce the death penalty for "aggravated" homosexuality. The film focuses on campaigner David Kato, the first out gay man in Uganda, and chief organiser for the somewhat unfortunately named SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda).

It follows victories against the Ugandan paper Rolling Stone, which printed pictures and addresses of men it accused of being "homos" and said, "Hang them. They are after our kids." The paper's editor is proud of his work and was happy to appear on camera. SMUG argued that though homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, calling for the deaths of LGBT people is an attack on their human rights, and a Ugandan court agreed.

At one point SMUG activists discuss how local attitudes can be changed. They talk about how hard it was to convince people that sex education was a good idea to try and halt the spread of HIV and how ideas have slowly but significantly shifted over this in Uganda.

A real danger with Western made commentary about this issue is that it can be patronising and moralistic and only sees Africans as victims who need wise Westerners to save them. Call Me Kuchu largely avoids this through the self-reliant strength of the campaigners, though it does sometimes suggest relying on Western powers to force Uganda to change through the UN and pressure from leaders such as Barack Obama.

Tragically, during the making of the film David was murdered in a hate crime. The filmmakers were at his funeral in his mother's village where the local priest said in the funeral oration that David would go to hell because he had not repented of his sexuality.

The film effectively juxtaposes anti-LGBT campaigners saying that homosexuality is spread through rape, to the real story of campaigner Stosh. Stosh was raped as a girl to "cure" her of lesbianism and got HIV.

David's relationship with his mother, who wishes he would marry and have children, but accepts him as he is, is touching.

In a film about prejudice it is fun to see the campaign group visiting David's home in the country and refusing to head out to dig vegetables. "That's bush! I'm not going out there," one activist cries, undermining Western viewers stereotypes about Africans and urban Africans.

Some of the events are terrifying or simply depressing, but in the end the film is inspiring. Members of the group repeat the slogan "A luta continua" (The struggle continues) in good times and bad and it is apt. Though the anti-homosexuality bill ran out of parliamentary time, it has been reintroduced in the 2012 session of parliament.