Directed by: Katherine Fairfax Wright & Malika Zouhali-Worrall.
The documentary Call Me Kuchu tells an important and tragic story – and one that remains unresolved in the film, because the piece of legislation in front of the Uganda parliament is still pending. That legislation would impose penalties – right up to and including the death penalty – for homosexuals in Uganda – and imprisonment for people who know homosexuals, but do not report them within 24 hours. The level of hatred and bigotry we see spewed throughout the film is truly eye opening and depressing.
The film spends much of its running time focusing on David Kato – Uganda’s “first openly gay man”, and a leading activist for gay rights in his country. He lived for a few years in South Africa – one of the few African countries with a more open mind about homosexuality – before returning to Uganda. Kato was bludgeoned to death during the production of this movie back in 2011. The movie does not mention the outcome of the murder – that a male prostitute was convicted of killing Kato and sentenced to 30 years in jail – something some believe is part of a smear campaign against Kato – but still something the movie should have brought up. As it stands, the movie makes it seem like no one was ever charged with Kato’s murder. . Two other leading figures in the gay rights movement in Uganda also get major screen time – Naome (if they ever gave a last name, I missed it)– a friend of David’s, and a leading lesbian activist, and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who was expelled from the Church for preaching tolerance of gays – and yet continues right on doing what he thinks is right. He quotes openly from the bible to support his belief that contrary to what many in Uganda think, God does not hate gay people. “We are all one in Christ”, he quotes Paul.
The movie also doesn’t shy away from showing the people on the other side – including Giles Muhame, the editor of a tabloid called Rolling Stone (that has nothing to do with the American magazine), that publishes pictures of alleged homosexuals, and encourages them to be hanged. When talking about Kato’s death, Muhame accepts no responsibility – he says he never encouraged violence against homosexuals. What he wanted was for people like Kato to be arrested, given a fair trial, and then hanged. He is a hateful person, spewing the worst kind of anti-gay rhetoric imaginable – and feels no shame at all. He’s not even humbled when he loses a court case against the people he put in his newspaper just weeks before Kato’s death.
The film tells an important story – and does serve to help give viewers more background information on Uganda and their treatment of homosexuals than they got by watching the media reports of the anti-gay bill by American news outlets. The stories the people in this movie tell – of being raped, harassed, beaten and all sort of other monstrous things truly is hard to take, but is necessary to show the living hell gays and lesbians live through in Uganda.
Still, I think Call Me Kuchu misses an opportunity to be a better, deeper film. The primary purpose of the film seems to be to raise awareness – and that in itself is a laudable goal. And yet, the film is content to take the easiest path possible in telling its story. It is important subject matter – but one that I wish was handled with a little bit more nuance and intelligence.