Think Africa Press speaks to Malika Zouhali-Worrall, director of an award-winning documentary about Ugandan gay rights activists.
On January 26, 2011, the Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato was murdered in his home in the town of Bukusa. The attack came shortly after Kato, considered by many to be the father of Uganda's gay rights movement, had won a lawsuit against Uganda's Rolling Stone magazine which had published a list of 100 gay men and women's names and photographs under the headline "Hang Them".
Call Me Kuchu, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, tells the story of Kato and three other activists working in a country where persecution against the LGBT community is widespread and an Anti-Homosexuality Bill is pending in parliament.
The documentary has won several awards and director Malika Zouhali-Worrall speaks to Think Africa Press about its origins, David Kato and the situation facing the LGBT community in Uganda.
How did you come to be involved with the issue of gay rights in Uganda?
Living in the US we'd hear a lot of stories about activism and discrimination against the LGBT community in the global North, but not much at all about what had been happening in the global South. We started researching the issue and heard about the transgender law student and LGBT activist, Juliet Victor Mukasa. He had his home raided by the Ugandan police, his computer and paperwork had been seized, and one of his colleagues had also been arrested and harassed by the police. So he decided to take the Ugandan attorney general to court on charges of invasion of privacy. He took it to the Ugandan High Court and won the case in late 2008.
After that we started paying a lot more attention to Uganda. It seemed like a really interesting place to set the story. On the one hand it was a country that was actively enforcing the law written in the penal code, but on the other hand the judiciary was also able to notice that gay rights activists should have their constitutional rights recognised. Soon after that, the sexuality bill was introduced. That made us realise that this was the place to find our characters and our story.
Why did you choose to focus the documentary on David Kato?
David was one of the first people we spoke to even before we left for Uganda. We were speaking to Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations and they suggested a few people we should contact. David was one of those people and he told us to come to Uganda and told us he would introduce us to the community. He gave us the telephone numbers and names of the people we should be speaking with in order to document the situation there. He was really integral to the whole process. Then, over time, we started to see him more as a protagonist.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni claimed that David Kato's death was a random killing rather than a homophobic attack. What do you think of that?
I'm not sure if I ever saw President Museveni's comments on it. I know that within less than a day of David's body being found, maybe even the same day, a member of the police force made a statement to the press saying that the murder had nothing to do with David's activism. This seemed very strange as there had been no time for an investigation at this stage. It seemed impossible to rule anything out at such an early stage. Perhaps there was some desire to reduce any outcry that David's activism was a possible reason for his death.
What do you hope to achieve with the documentary?
Our main goal has been to create a film that tells a true story in a personal and observational way so that people can empathise with LGBT activists even if they have no interest in LGBT rights specifically. We always knew that in order to make a film that could be useful in terms of advocacy, the starting point would be to make a film that was not all issue-based but more about getting to know the characters as people. We thought that was the only powerful way to let the situation in Uganda really hit home.
How has the film been received so far?
The response has been really incredible. A lot of the people we followed in the film have seen it and their feedback has been 100% positive. They were the audience we were most nervous about. They said that it's an accurate portrayal of their experiences and the past few years of their lives, which is fantastic.
There haven't been any significant negative responses so far and the questions and answers sessions after screenings have been really interesting - the audiences have been really involved.
Do you hope to release the film in Uganda?
Yes, we're hoping to but we must tread carefully, we must have everyone involved in the film agree to it first - as they may be at risk. Once the community on the ground has given us the green light we'll be more inclined to show it more broadly in Uganda. Right now though it's really important to follow the communities' lead on it as they know far more than us about what the situation is like there and when and how would be good to screen it.
How do you expect the Ugandan public would respond to the film?
I would hope that seeing the LGBT community in this light, as humans and people who go through the same things as everyone else, might change their views on the community. There is obviously a dominant portrait of the LGBT community as a sexually depraved, raw, immoral group of people. In our film we did everything we could to portray them as we saw them; as individuals determined to fight for each other's right to exist. Many of them were actually very religious, very Christian.
From your experience in Uganda, why do you think there is popular resistance to gay rights?
I think a lot of it comes from the Church and a revolt from Uganda's religious leaders. It also comes, to an extent, from evangelicals coming from the US, creating this myth that the homosexual agenda is being pushed by Western countries onto Uganda. I think that this is the largest source of the climate of fear that is being created around the issue.
What do you think is required for Uganda to move to greater recognition of gay rights and greater tolerance of the LGBT community?
I think the Ugandan Church's position would have to change. That would be really instrumental in changing laws in Uganda. There are certain Ugandan members of parliament who are writing laws and pushing for them but it seems the Ugandan churches' position would make the biggest difference in tolerating gay rights.
The church is definitely the main place the Ugandan population is hearing about the concept of evil or immoral homosexuality.
Call Me Kuchu is being screened at film festivals and events in Europe, South Africa, and North America.