Call Me Kuchu – screening and directors Q&A session

By Tom Meade

On 1 November, the Frontline Club screened the powerful and evocative documentary about the human rights of Uganda’s gay and lesbian population, Call Me Kuchu, followed by a Q&A.

David Kato, the most prominent leader for sexual equality rights in Uganda, is the focus of this extraordinary documentary filmed during the last year of his life – until his murder in January 2011.

The film exposes the level of public fear and hatred towards the LGBT community, and how this embattled community reacted. One popular tabloid headline read:

“Homos giving support to Kony, ADF and Al-Shabaab”.

This vitriolic expression of hatred, linking Kuchus to terrorism and brutal atrocities, distinctly highlights the level of public outrage at ‘unnatural’ behaviour, and the popular support behind the recurring anti-homosexual legislation. A ‘Kuchu’ is a discriminatory acronym for a homosexual in Uganda.

Filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall first came across the specifics of Ugandan homophobia laws after hearing of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) activist Victor Mukasa’s legal victory against the Ugandan Attorney General over police harassment.

That a member of this repressed and discriminated community could win such a case, showing surprising judicial independence, piqued their interest which led to this compelling film’s creation.

Naome Ruzindana, a friend and colleague of Kato’s, answered questions with Fairfax Wright and Zouhali-Worrall after the screening. Discussing the bill she said it has been on and off due to Ugandan elections and its legislative reintroduction:

“But now it’s going to be passed, the bill is definitely criminalising homosexuals.”

Asked about the root cause of Uganda’s extreme homophobia, it became clear that as a law it has survived from the British colonial era into the modern day.

Most tellingly it has become the frontline of Bible-belt American pastors in the fight against homosexuality. Fairfax Wright said:

“Pastors feel they have lost the battle in places like the US so are trying to nip it in the bud, in places like Uganda.”

Later on in the discussion she added:

“Churches that have the most power [in Uganda] are the ones that happen to be the most right wing, the most LGBT non-affirming.[….] But on the other hand these pastors [….] have only recently started coming [to Uganda].”

Among the different topics addressed during the discussion, audience questions focussed on how to change a whole people’s mentality from both a top-down and a bottom-up approach.

The international community toes a challenging line between offering aid and demanding reform. Rousing support for the LGBT cause is difficult when a clause of the new legislation states even knowing of a homosexual’s ‘abnormality’ causes guilt by association and liability for a three year prison term.

“The fear is that if they’re doing it now [supporting the gay community] what happens when the bill passes and there’s evidence of them aiding and abetting the gay community. So, people are very hesitant to put their stamp of approval on the gay community because it may come back to haunt them and prevent them from doing the other work that they’re also there to do.” said Fairfax Wright.

Finally a question was raised, asking if the filmmakers set out to make a film about activism or an activist film, especially related to their journalism background. Fairfax Wright replied:

“If we are making a film about a crucial human rights issue, we probably would want it to be a useful advocacy tool as well. But then we also felt that our way of making a useful advocacy tool would be to make a good film that people could relate to regardless to who the characters were in terms of the labels.”

The film is distributed by Dogwoof all over the UK and Ireland, click here for a full list of upcoming screnings.

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