Call Me Kuchu

Ashley Clark

Call Me Kuchu is an absorbing and deeply moving human rights documentary which draws attention to the desperate recent plight of the LGBT community in Uganda, and their incredible efforts to make a difference.

In Uganda, a bill is brought to parliament which threatens to make homosexuality punishable by death. The film focuses on the charismatic David Kato - Uganda's first openly gay man - and his fellow activists (all captured intimately by the filmmakers, who have great access), who work tirelessly to derail the legislation while having to cope with intense discrimination and persecution on a daily basis. There is also hope in the form of the brave Bishop and LGBT activist Christopher Senyonjo who affirms, “We are all one in Christ”.

Sadly, where there are heroes, there are always likely to be villains, and Call Me Kuchu doesn’t disappoint on this front. There’s horrifying footage of anti-LGBT protests in the name of God which highlight the deep-seated religiosity of the prejudice, and even cameos from screaming American right-wing nutters. Ambitious young politician (and architect of the bill) David Bahati states, chillingly, “There is no longer a debate. It [homosexuality] is no longer a human right”. Were the stakes not so very high, Giles Muhane, the arrogant, cackling editor of inflammatory Ugandan tabloid ‘Rolling Stone’, would make an excellent pantomime villain. And yet, his cynically utilitarian view of media responsibility is a universal issue that’s especially resonant in light of the tabloid crisis that’s blighted Britain in the last few years.

Unlike many documentarians to deal with issues of social justice in recent times (think Werner Herzog, Nick Broomfield), young directors Wright and Zouhali-Worrall opt against appearing in the film, instead letting the action speak for itself. This is a good decision, because there’s really no need to editorialise explicitly; the issues are fairly straightforward. The interviewed bigots are free to hoist themselves by their own petards, and frequently do (though the filmmakers deserve credit for resisting the urge to wallop the appalling Muhane round the face).

And although the film never digs especially deeply into wider Ugandan society, it has a clear-eyed, even-handedness which prevents it from slipping into a “Kony 2012”-style, crusading Westerners affair. Also, like Alison Klayman’s excellent recent doc Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, it explicitly points up the growing importance of social media in activism.

There are some shocks along the way that make the film very upsetting to watch (it’s up to the viewer if they want to look up the story beforehand), but ultimately Call Me Kuchu emerges as a sober, uplifting work which is both a tribute to the activists it depicts and a soaring affirmation of the power of the human spirit.

Follow Ashley on Twitter: @_Ash_Clark

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