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Call Me Kuchu, an intimate look at the struggle for gay rights in Uganda, is hauntingly reminiscent of the civil rights movement of 1960s America. The main characters are from both sides of the political fence: activists who risk their lives to be heard and treated equally, and anti-gay politicians and religious leaders who seek to quash any uprising or expectation of equal rights by the “kuchus” (homosexuals).
The film introduces us to several Ugandan activists, among them David Kato Kisule (pictured), Uganda’s first openly gay man. Through their stories and dialogue, we learn about the barbaric treatment of the country’s gay citizens. Known homosexuals are routinely fired from jobs, evicted from their homes, and beaten in the streets. More extreme cases end in public hangings, stonings, and life imprisonment.
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In 2009, a piece of legislation known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in the Ugandan parliament. The bill proposed death for “repeat offenders” of homosexual acts and imprisonment for any citizen who did not report knowledge of a person being gay within 24 hours—including parents of gay children and doctors who treated gay patients. Kisule was open in his critique and opposition of the bill.
The film follows its characters through both everyday and astonishing events: a loved one “defriends” a gay relative on Facebook; a newspaper editor publishes photos and addresses of gay individuals, calling on citizens to hang them; the international community threatens to cut off aid if the bill is passed; gay friends hold an impromtu drag show. The bill is eventually defeated, but with the steepest of prices. Kisule is murdered by unknown assailants, which shakes Uganda’s gay community to the core.
What strikes me most about Call Me Kuchu is the incredible strength and resiliency of its characters. In the face of violent threats and even death, these brave men and women refuse to hide or be silenced. They are empowered—not broken—by the death of their leader and friend. The only minor flaw is that directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall leave us hanging; an update on the legal battle (the bill has since been reintroduced in Uganda legislature) would have tied things up more clearly.
See it: Watch Call Me Kuchu on Thursday, November 8 and Sunday, November 11 at Denver Pavilions.
—Image courtesy of Starz Denver Film Festival