‘Call Me Kuchu’ Is an Urgent and Devastating Portrait of Intolerance

On 14 October 2009 David Bahati, a member of the Ugandan Parliament, submitted the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This bill would criminalise same-sex relations in Uganda and would even go as far as to extend its power to countries where Ugandan citizens lived, meaning they could be extradited and punished in their home country for being gay. Being a homosexual in Uganda is illegal and punishable, with extremists taking the so-called duty of doing “justice” and murdering homosexual men and women.

With this heartbreaking premise, directors Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright directed Call Me Kuchu, a revealing documentary that takes a look at how a small group of people are working hard to take Uganda out of this dark ages. The film explores the struggles experienced by a community so discriminated against, that they have jokingly chosen to call themselves “kuchu”, a derogative term for homosexuals in their country. The film focuses on specific men and women who are out or have been outed without their consent, and are trying to pave the way for future generations to experience absolute freedom.

One of them was David Kato, an activist who was brutally murdered in 2011 and who happens to become the film’s default protagonist. A wide-eyed man with a sweet sensitive smile, Kato explains to the camera how he first found out he was gay after moving to South Africa ,where he was befriended by a group of gay men, who immediately saw him as one of them. Talking about his first sexual experience with a man, he smiles while remembering he was fascinated by the size of the bed, “I’ve never seen such a bed” he exclaims, reminding us about the levels of poverty endured by people in the country.

The film shows us the work Kato did through an organization he created called Sexual Minorities Uganda or SMUG, a human rights NGO that advocates for the rights of men and women in the country. Kato, the self proclaimed “first out gay man in Uganda” became a patron saint of sorts to people who were used to living their lives in complete secrecy. Part of the film also deals with the legal battle between SMUG and a local tabloid called Rolling Stone which, in 2010, published an issue where it outed over 100 homosexual men and women, asking readers to go out and murder them to put an end to their immorality.

Among the people we meet are a lesbian bartender who tells how as a child she was raped by one of her friends, because she showed no sexual interest in men whatsoever. Our hearts turn upside down when she reveals that upon telling her grandmother about what had happened to her, the old woman replied that she must have had given her consent and that such a thing otherwise would never happen. The levels of ignorance shown in the Ugandan society are never looked down upon, but used as examples to call for an urgent reappraisal of values.

One of the film’s most perverse characters is Giles Muhame, the Managing Editor of Rolling Stone, who comes off even more wicked because he doesn’t seem to be aware of the damage he’s causing. Bigotry and intolerance are so embedded into who he is and how he was raised that he even explains “we shall ignore the right of privacy in the interest of the public”.

Muhame is shocked that his work in the controversial issue of Rolling Stone was so condemned by international audiences. He espouses certainty that homosexuality is ruining Uganda. Convinced that homosexuals are degenerates looking only to take minors to bed, his crusade against “sin” is a fascinating look at how hatred is passed from generation to generation. “God’s law is that homosexuality is sin. The wages of sin is death,” he says.

During one of the film’s most devastating scenes, a pastor speaking at Kato’s funeral exclaims that he wouldn’t have showed up if he knew the kind of work Kato had done in life. “Kato is gone, he can’t repent” he calls out, before asking other members of the gay community to seek salvation and find god. The endurance and dignity shown by these people who are mourning their lost brother is more inspiring than words can say. When someone says that god will “roast” Kato’s soul, we can’t help but want to seek ways to find these people and that might the documentary’s greatest achievement.

Uganda is still in the process of passing the aforementioned bill against homosexuality and human rights are violated every day. Call Me Kuchu might not show the way out of this misery, but it certainly serves as an eye opener, and urges action. The DVD edition includes several deleted scenes, including some regarding the trial of Kato’s murderer. Watch them, but be prepared to have your soul ripped from your body. Fewer outtakes are as brutal and honest as the ones presented in this edition.

RATING 8 / 10
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