When David Kato left Uganda in 1992, he discovered another world. On arriving in South Africa, he remembers, he stayed at a YMCA. “I saw these men on the street,” he says, and when he asked what they were selling, wondering whether it was “gold or diamonds,” he was told they were selling themselves. He was further surprised when he learned that these men sold themselves to other men. “I said, ‘For what?’” Here David exaggerates his response, cocking his head to the side. “I said, ‘Ahh.’ And I’ve always wanted men, so I went to the street.”
The memory of his youthful naïvete makes David smile now, as he’s interviewed in Call Me Kuchu. Back then, he continues, his education was just beginning. One of the men he met in South Africa brought him along to his church, where he went on Sundays with his wife and children. As David entered the church, he recalls, “All eyes were on me. I was young, I was so nice. Not like now, I’m old now.” Again, he smiles, hardly old at all, in his mid-40s. When he saw that gay men and women were not hidden, but visible, as individuals and a community, in bars and in churches, he felt his eyes were opened. After six years away, he decided to come back to Uganda. “I wanted to begin the fight to liberate our people,” he says.
As Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s remarkable documentary reveals, that fight has been difficult. “I’m the first gay man to be open in Uganda,” David says, now walking as he speaks, the camera a couple of steps behind him, following his feet, his wiry frame. In his office at SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda)—which he helped to found in 2004—David explains that he is “the advocacy and litigation officer,” which means he is exceedingly visible in a country where homosexuals suffer prejudice and abuse. As he leans over his desk, piled high with papers, he looks into his computer monitor and takes notes. “So my work mostly is to document violences and cases of discrimination against gay people.” He and his lawyer help to bring some of these cases to court.
The film—screening on 25 February at the Doc Yard, where it will be followed by a Q&A with Zouhali-Worrall—follows some of that work, by David and others. David is exceptionally charismatic, inviting the camera into his home and to follow him in the street, close-ups revealing daily activities and extraordinary compassion. They appear in courtrooms, they contend with fearful relatives, they do their best to counter homophobic mages in newspapers and on TV. As the film is shot, during 2010 and 2011, these images become increasingly pervasive, in particular in October 2010, when Rolling Stone, a Ugandan newspaper, published photos of 100 individuals identified and vilified as homosexual.
As David and two other SMUG members sue the newspaper in order to stop the publication of names and photos, the film incudes a lengthy interview with the managing editor, Giles Muhame, who insists on the righteousness of what he’s doing while also denying it. “This is the one that called for ‘Hang them,’” he says, pointing to a headline accompanying a series of photos, even though, he adds, “We are not saying people should hang.” He describes their “investigative technique, called ‘disguise,’” meaning that reporters go undercover to take pictures of homosexuals in order to publish them.
Though Giles’ reporters have gone to parties or photograph couples on the sidewalk, they have yet to follow anyone into his or her bedroom, he points out. Giles looks forward to the future, when new strategies will be possible. “When we get sophisticated cameras, we shall ignore the right of privacy in the public interest.” Still, he insists that the court case is trumped up. “They are accusing us of invading their privacy, inciting violence against them and discriminating them,” he says, even as he’s just described “the public interest” as just that.
The film goes on to interview other gay individuals, like Naome Ruzindana and John Long Jones, who describe various hardships, their fears and their resolve too. An ongoing battle involves the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, also called the “Kill the Gays bill,” which calls for he execution of homosexuals. Introduced in 2009, it draws inspiration from US Christian leader Lou Engle, who has proclaimed, “One of the names of God is ‘the avenger of blood.” He appears briefly in Call Me Kuchu, his outsized influence deemed an example of the “irony” that “Homosexuality as a crime was introduced by the West,” a new, fierce and virulent sort of colonialism that has led to violence and death throughout Uganda.
The movie doesn’t find a resolution, as the politicking and the pushback continue in Uganda. The bill—revised by Ugandan legislators and condemned by other nations—yet awaits a vote. Still, Call Me Kuchu insists on the resilience and the courage of SCUM members and other activists, so defined just because they live and breathe as gay people. That it closes with David Kato’s murder in 2011 is at once horrific and inspiring, in the sense that his friends and colleagues carry on his work and his hopes.