Call Me Kuchu – a film review
David R. Weiss
July 10, 2012
Call Me Kuchu is the first film by U.S.-based filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall. “Kuchu” is a Ugandan word roughly equivalent to our word “queer” in that it encompasses the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community in Uganda. It is the term of identity claimed with pride by a growing number of LGBTI Ugandans. On their lips “Call me Kuchu” signals the resolve to become visible in a country where visibility can be deadly.
The film profiles several kuchu activists (Longjones, Naome, Stosh, and David Kato) as well as retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an outspoken ally. We hear their stories; we see them at work and occasionally at play. There is a striking fullness to their lives: anguish, fear, determination … and jubilation are all present in great measure.
The film also offers a glimpse of the forces arrayed against them and their community.
We see pastors who are exultant in their condemnation of homosexuality—and congregations whose fervor for judgment is frightening. We glimpse the virulently anti-gay strand of American fundamentalism that has injected itself into Uganda’s Christianity and has, in fact, helped define Uganda’s political scene and social climate.
We listen to a newspaper editor’s gleeful delight in outing gay and lesbian persons in his newspaper—and inviting the public to turn in more names, workplaces, and home addresses so he can continue his campaign of public harassment. We see the headline that implores the government to arrest and hang the kuchu leaders. And we watch him smile as he casually dismisses any responsibility for violence directed at LGBTI Ugandans.
We hear David Bahati, member of the Ugandan Parliament and lead sponsor of the infamous “Kill the gays” bill, defend his bill on the floor of Parliament and in the press, and we see him receive the prayerful endorsement of pastors and churches.
During the last 30 minutes, the film moves from profile to testament when one of the activists, David Kato, is brutally murdered in 2010. His death sparks international outrage and his own funeral is disrupted when the family pastor launches into an anti-gay tirade.
The power of Call Me Kuchu is that it offers us a portrait of an “issue” through the lives of people for whom this is not an issue at all but the very flesh and blood of their being.
While searing and unsettling for most of its 80 minutes, the movie ends on a haunting hopeful note. This is not because there is any real reason for hope. The Bahati bill still looms; voices of hatred are as loud as ever; David Kato is dead—and the other activists cannot help but wonder out loud whether one of them will be next. And yet, in the face of this fear, the film closes with a party. Because Life—even, and perhaps especially for those who dare to say, “Call me kuchu”—refuses to surrender its joy.
Call Me Kuchu has its Twin Cities premiere in a fundraising event to support of the work of Bishop Christopher this Sunday (July 15) at the Parkway Theater, 4820 Chicago Ave. South, Minneapolis. The film will be followed by a panel discussion including Bishop Christopher himself. Tickets are $15, available at the door, and include a pre-screening reception at 7pm; the film starts at 8pm. Please see this film, not because you’ll “like” it or find it in any way comforting, but because few films speak so much discomforting truth so well.
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David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more at http://www.tothetune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”