When two American filmmakers headed for Uganda with the goal of telling the story of the efforts to gain LGBT rights in the East African nation, they found plenty to document. The women were soon drawn, in particular, to David Kato—a courageous and charismatic fellow who was widely recognized as the first openly gay man in the country.
Kato and a handful of other activists clearly had an uphill battle to fight: Some 95 percent of Ugandans despised gays and lesbians, the government supported legislation that threatened to kill all homosexuals, and a local gossip rag was publishing headlines such as “Hang Homos!”
But these elements of the filmmakers’ story faded into little more than subplots when, in early 2011, an assailant attacked Kato by slamming a hammer into his head.
That vicious murder, which attracted headlines around the globe, instantly became the centerpiece of the film.
Call Me Kuchu is now showing at film festivals and in art-house theaters around the world, while also being showered with awards as both a journalistic and artistic work.
The vibrant colors and toe-tapping music that dominate the early sections of the film usher the viewer into a fledgling and homegrown movement fueled by hope and common purpose. From the outset, the hero of Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s documentary is Kato, who comes across as an inspiring leader of his fellow “kuchus”—the Ugandan term for members of the LGBT community.
Before his death, Kato fought against several nemeses. The most formidable of them was David Bahati, the Member of Parliament who introduced a bill that authorized execution of anyone committing a homosexual act. Significant as well were the weekly tabloid Rolling Stone (which has no connection to the American publication with the same name) and religious leaders representing both Ugandans churches and evangelical groups based in the United States.
Kato’s dynamic personality dominates Call Me Kuchu, but the film also profiles a handful of other activists who stand tall in the face of constant abuse and discrimination. Most memorable among them is Stosh Mugisha, a woman who was forced to endure a “corrective rape” by a family friend who was determined to rid her of her same-sex desires. Her tearful recollection of that tragic experience is one of the film’s most powerful moments.
Movie Trailer and More for "Call Me Kuchu"
From a journalistic perspective, one of Call Me Kuchu’s strengths is the lengths that it goes to achieve an order of balance. Notable in this regard is the filmmakers’ decision not to label Gilles Muhame, the editor of Rolling Stone, a bigot but to allow him to speak in his own words about his policy to publish photos and addresses of gay women and men, even though doing so meant that those individuals could no longer safely walk the streets. As Stosh Mugisha tells the camera, “It’s one thing being outed. It’s another being denied.”
Uganda’s anti-gay sentiment has been widely reported, but Call Me Kuchu is the first cinematic overview of the forces and the people involved.
By Rodger Streitmatter
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