The night after I attended a screening called Call Me Kuchu at Somerset House, I set about writing about it straight away. So in awe was I, so moved and distressed and enlightened all at once, that I came at the keys like a madwoman. Yet the minute I sat down to write, I was engulfed – I couldn’t write. I couldn’t write a thing. I wasn’t sure how I could do any justice to a documentary that sought to undo so many injustices; I was terrified that I’d just be mawkish at best and patronising at my worst, so I left it a while.
Of course, every second that I left it, even a split second longer, there was some sort of authorial concern that I wouldn’t record things straight, that I would miss a detail – no matter how slight: the jut of a chin, a deft curling of fingers, the flirt of a hip – some deft movement that instilled an entire litany of feeling without any words even being spoken. What if I forgot about it?
I did not. In fact, I thought about it more and more from day to day. The finer details became finer. The names and the faces of the protagonists of this terrible and beautiful documentary entrenched themselves upon my psyche. They dug deep and settled, jocular entities flitting in and out of my periphery, and thank God they did – for they are there to stay and I would loathe to bid them a farewell; forever.
Call Me Kuchu is An American film documentary by Katharine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Made in 2012, the documentary explores the deep-seated and institutionalised homophobia in Uganda – and how the LGBTI community endlessly strive to wage war against it. Of course, you couldn’t talk about homophobia in Uganda without focussing on the irrepressible David Kato. ‘Kuchu’ is Ugandan slang for ‘queer’. And if you ever wanted a man to represent ‘queerness’ and for Uganda, you couldn’t have asked for a better man. Kato embraces ‘kuchu’, and without shame. Kato has paved a road, one which I hope many, many people will take to and follow, shamelessly.
Kato was, of course, brutally murdered in 2011, before the documentary was aired. Knowing the ending before it’s happened makes the viewing experience no easier.
‘Call Me Kuchu’ is a document that should be watched by everyone so I don’t want to dissect it in detail, except to explore a number of elements that made the film so extraordinary. That homophobia is latent in Uganda is no secret – it gained international traction in 2010 when the [deluded] David Bahati decreed that the Ugandan government were planning to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The Bill instigated that homosexuality was illegal, and that ‘outed’ gays were ultimately game for the death sentence by hanging. Furthermore, the Bill decreed that anyone found guilty of knowing someone who was gay, or of ‘aiding and abetting’, were also in danger of arrest.
Rolling Stone Magazine played a particularly gruesome role in this whole sorry affair. It’s insidious editor, Gile Muhame, bathed in the spotlight, proud of his place in ‘punishing the gays’. Publishing pictures, names, incitement to ‘let the police know of their whereabouts’, incited a terrible fear – like the whir of drones above one’s head – never knowing when it might drop and demolish. Rolling Stone, under the misinformed aegis of Muhame, gathered enough traction to destroy anyone who was gay. Muhame was 22 years old, in 2010, a year before Kato was killed.
Rolling Stone also did a really great and pathetic job of negatively politicising the LGBTI community, making vague affiliations with the Lords Resistance Army, al-Shabaab and the Allied Democratic Forces during and after the July 2010 Kampala terrorist attacks. (Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks, incidentally, in retaliation for the Ugandan support of AMISOM.)
All this said, Kato and his friends are a joy to behold. Witty, erudite, passionate and articulate. Whilst watching a shitty pastor demonizing him, he shouts at the TV: shut up, you ugly poo! This incites a laugh among the audience. In fact, most of the LGBTI protagonists in this film incited laughter in the audience, providing a brief relief from the ugly reality of their struggle. Furthermore, their capacity to joke, to take the piss out of themselves, to laugh at each other, was not only deeply humanising but proof of an extraordinary collective strength.
One of the elements of the film that I found to be most profound was how each and every LGBTI individual said to the camera, at least once, unreserved and matter of fact: this is who I am. There were no apologies, there was no pretence. I was born this way. In a society so restrictive and bound to draconian ideologies, this struck me as particularly awesome. The LGBTI continued to give two fingers to everyone who raged against them.
The situation of Stosh, in particular, lends itself to the cruel madness of homophobic thought. ‘Curatively’ raped at the age of 14, by a ‘friend’, her relatives conceded that she ‘must have consented’. She became pregnant, which was then – with little concern for the well-being of Stosh – induced and aborted at 5 months so that Stosh gave birth to a dead child. She then later discovered that she was HIV positive. Stosh still does not deny who she is. Quiet and unassuming, Stosh forms yet another block of strength of part of this put-upon community.
There is one glorious – and it is absolutely glorious scene – before the inevitable, before Kato is killed. All these fantastic gay men sashay down a a makeshift catwalk, the colour of lust and earth, Stosh DJ’s, and Gay David wins. Then next thing we know, the illustrious Kato has been murdered.
The scenes to follow during his funeral, unceremoniously disrupted by a parsimonious pastor, claiming ‘Kato, he will go to Hell’, before being re-commandeered by one of Kato’s party – be-dreaded and wonderful, had me wrapping my scarf around most of my face to suppress wracking sobs. I was weeping at Kato’s death, anyway, and then this woman, this extraordinary woman, grabbed the mic, saying: ‘he will make his own way’. That’s when I really lost it. Only because she was right, and as everybody wept for Kato, and at the same time the people who are I suppose are lost started shrieking and this woman, she kept hold of the microphone – in a t-shirt with David’s face on it, and she fought over the pastor and made more of her words.
Part of the incredulity beholden to this documentary is the understanding that not all campaigning will fall foul of bureaucratic inertia, that the strength and courage of any number of individuals will do more than hold sway. Here the sway is held by the men and the women that have more than the courage – I don’t know what the word is – the ferocity, the tenacity, the veracity, the capacity, the voraciousness for freedom and for justness, the temerity to challenge the system even with the threat of death – here are the people that should rule our fucking world. And if they even did, I have little doubt that our world would be a better place. Long live the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Intersexuals. Long live and long live them all. Long live David Kato.