Film Review: Call Me Kuchu

Beyond inspiring, utterly gripping and moving documentary about Uganda’s homophobia, specifically the legacy of the Christ-like David Kato.

Living in Greenwich Village, I am used to seeing all types of sexual freedom on display, from the black transvestites who love to congregate on Christopher Street to furry “bears” (the latest incarnation of ubiquitous gay male cloning) to the fresh and dewy twenty-somethings happily sashaying with their skintight jeggings, man purses and elaborate coiffures. After seeing Katherine Fairfax-Wright and Malika Zouhaly-Worrall’s terrifically informative and uplifting Call Me Kuchu, I have to wonder how many of them really do appreciate that aforementioned freedom they so blithely enjoy.

Kuchu (which is the term Ugandan gay and lesbian activists have given themselves) brings home the terrible, seemingly never-ending reality of virulent homophobia which still exists in a world which is really not all rainbows, unicorns, and gay marriage bills passing left and right. In Uganda, conservative and religious forces have completely demonized homosexuality, accusing its “practitioners” of everything from rape to intentional spreading of HIV and even terrorist attacks. Subsequently, the LGBT community lives in constant fear of arrest, random violence and even death.

David Kato, the first openly gay man in Uganda, took an unbelievably courageous stand against all of this, with nonstop activism and attempts at outreach. For his efforts, he was loved by the small but staunch community of his peers, but completely vilified by the many, many who opposed him, and eventually beaten to death with a hammer.

The film shows Kato right up until the eve of his death, presenting a vibrant, funny and deeply inspirational portrait of a man on a passionate, completely unquestioned mission. We follow him on his tireless quest to address the beyond-libelous bad publicity promoted by his homophobic enemies, both through legal and religious channels, and witness the work of his cohorts. But we also see his lighter, fun side, attending a drag pageant on the night of his murder, and at one point referring to his hard-working mother (who still dreams of his meeting the right girl) as a “brilliant bitch.”

Others are profiled as well, like brave, gay-friendly Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and Stosh Mugisha, a lesbian who was “correctively” raped, had her five-month-old stillborn baby removed from her womb, and contracted HIV. This innocent adolescent was told by her own mother that she must have consented to the sex. The moralists screaming that homosexuality is a curse and the abomination of the nation view Uganda as ground zero for righteousness, and wish to pass a bill that would impose life imprisonment for anyone caught in a homosexual act, with a death sentence for repeat offenders. Additionally, severe punishment for anyone harboring knowledge of a homosexual person in their lives—including their own children—is proposed. And, oh yes, American evangelicals have to also horn in on the act, with a rabble-rousing sermon of hate delivered by a white fundamentalist guest preacher from our proud shores.

Ugandan homophobia, of course, became spotlighted on the world’s stage, engendering the condemnation of many nations. Although the film ends on a positive note—even after Kato’s funeral which was marred by anti-queer hate forces—with that heinous bill effectively pushed back (at least for now), there is no doubt that this is far from a closed chapter. As the brave transgendered community there proclaims: “A Luta Continua” (the struggle continues).