Check out this review by the Eau Queer Film Festival of the Centerpiece documentary Call Me Kuchu:
The end of the credits faded from the screen and the already cheering and applauding audience began to get to their feet. As directors, Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, took to the stage with the two fiercely inspiring subjects of their documentary, Call Me Kuchu, I could already see tears welling in their eyes. The audience gave a standing ovation for more than five minutes. No one’s palms were too sore, no arms too tired. In that moment, the emotion was palpable for all. Empathy had truly been formed through film that every person in the room felt with total unity and universality. The crowd was simply in awe of the work of the Ugandan men before us and the visionary courage of these filmmakers to pursue their story.
Until Fairfax Wright and Zouhali-Worrall’s documentary, the stories of Ugandan LGBT individuals, or the pejorative, kuchus, were all but untold. For years now, the government there has been oppressing its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens through systematic homophobia, forcing them to the outskirts, and into a world united as social pariahs. Just three years ago, the most heinous of legislation was introduced to Parliament, The Anti-Homosexuality Bill which stipulates death penalty to those found guilty of “Aggravated homosexuality” and being HIV-positive with life imprisonment for “the offense of homosexuality.” In addition, any person knowing of these circumstances then becomes accomplice to the “crime” and is also at risk of jail time. Sick of the repression, tired of their faces being smeared across incriminating, sensationalist tabloids, the LGBT community mobilized. They became visible and active, led by an incredibly passionate, determined, man named David Kato.
In Call Me Kuchu, we learn through images and sounds of Kampala, how much Kato was the face and voice of this movement. Though there have been a few remarks about the sometimes gritty quality, skewed camera angles, and over exposed lighting—I think they are artistic choices that support the story that Fairfax Wright and Zouhali-Worrall were trying to portray. As Ariel Jurmain puts it, “though the camera was often focusing while people on camera were speaking, it gave the film an interesting aesthetic and an almost surreal feeling.” Everything was transient, constantly evolving and adapting to the imposing hatred of their government and community. It makes sense that the camerawork would reflect that almost haunting and fleeting nature, taking a visible moment to process a subject’s face before coming into clarity or a flair of light almost blinding to the eye until it dissipates into reality. Devastatingly, Kato only lived to see his community’s fire beginning to spark before he fell prey to a violent hate crime in his town of Kampala. The cinematography grasped Kato’s ethereal presence for the entirety of the film in a subdued way that represented what could have been a somber, mournful time, but instead became a symbol and his memory a driving force, so his friends and family could carry on. Formerly a war cry during Mozambique’s battle for independence, “A luta continua”, meaning “the struggle continues”, became the motto for this momentous fight.
After his death, new leaders took on the mission to shut down the bill and to gain respect in their communities. Because the institution of religion permeates the country of Uganda, this war needed a soldier of the church, a former Bishop, and ally to the LGBT community, Christopher Senyonj. With his fervor and the dedicated activism of Kampala’s kuchus like Longjones, they were able to start spreading their message of not just tolerance, but equality and freedom to live openly instead of secretly closeted into the shadows of their Ugandan villages. In the time following these events, these activists have accomplished great things by beginning conversations with the United Nations, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and other organizations of power.
With this film, there is both brilliant storytelling and imagery that ignites activism. Stephanie Gottschalk sums it up flawlessly, “After the film, you have laughed with Uganda, you have cried with Uganda, and you feel that Uganda is part of our community. And the fact that people can still laugh and sing and dance under those circumstances is so wonderfully inspiring.”