It's impossible to watch Call Me Kuchu, Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall's affecting and shocking documentary about the fight for gay rights in Uganda, and not rail against the religion-inspired hatred that many Ugandans hold towards homosexuals. It's even tempting to look down upon the ignorant and hateful East Africans who embrace such views and consider them the product of "Third World thinking." And yet many Americans hold comparable opinions. Search the various comment boards that deal in such political and social matters and you'll easily find educated, technology-savvy, big city Americans who use the same justification to condemn, sometimes violently, "the gay lifestyle."
So, while Call Me Kuchu bears witness to those fighting against well-organized prejudice in Uganda, it also reminds us that such bigotry isn't just taking place in a faraway land removed from our experience. We're only a few conservative lawmakers away from reversing the recent advances in gay acceptance in America, making Wright and Zouhali-Worrall's film vital viewing for stateside audiences.
Uganda: Anti-gay prejudice taken 'to toxic extremes'
One can certainly argue that Ugandans have taken their anti-gay prejudice to toxic extremes that would never gain serious traction in America. Indeed, some Ugandans advocate a law that would allow the government to jail anyone failing to report a known homosexual. And Call Me Kuchu's main legislative focus is the possible enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would make homosexuality punishable by death.
To keep that from happening, the Ugandan pro-gay movement has David Kato, the hero of Call Me Kuchu. The first Ugandan to come out publicly, Kato comes across as soft-spoken yet fierce, an example of someone you'd normally peg for the sidelines, but who answered the call to lead kuchus (as gays are called in Uganda) in their fight to live without judgment or repercussion.
The Ugandan forces allied against David and his group are no less mighty than government, religion, and the press. The editor of Rolling Stone, a weekly tabloid published in the capital of Kampala, has made it his crusade to condemn gays in his hateful rag: "Homo Terror! We Name and Shame Top Gays in the City," screams one headline. Later, while smugly reclining in a white plastic lawn chair, he declares, "Human rights do not mean gay rights. Especially in Uganda."
Such casual homophobia drives Rolling Stone right into court and a verdict that suggests all is not lost in Uganda. Still, where the gay-bashing media occasionally fails, anti-gay religious institutions are right there to spread the intolerance. That includes an American fundamentalist preacher spewing invective that's simpatico with Christian thought in Uganda. The only exception seen in Call Me Kuchu is Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, one of David Kato's key allies. This beacon of open-mindedness has, no surprise, earned scorn from local leaders and yet his belief in Kato's cause remains undiminished throughout.
'Automatically damning' bigotry
Call Me Kuchu is not a work of scholarship, insight, or style. It's not meant to be. This is an unpolished, almost do-it-yourself documentary with a calm air of passive-aggressiveness. Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall don't outwardly condemn or press their case against those with anti-gay biases. There's so much rope for Ugandan homophobes to hang themselves that merely turning on the camera and letting them talk is automatically damning. It's frightening to see how confidently the anti-gay contingent connects gays with Al Qaeda or recites the refrain (oft-used by the Fred Phelps crowd) that God hates gays.
Wright and Zouhali-Worrall were also the unfortunate beneficiaries of a tragic turn of events that left the cause without David Kato, its natural leader. But in the absence of Kato, the movement still has plenty of gay and lesbian foot soldiers, including one woman who was raped in order to "cure" her same-sex attraction.
Call Me Kuchu: A human face on targets of 'unfounded, irrational hatred'
Fittingly, Call Me Kuchu ends with Uganda being fiercely rebuked by the United Nations. What we don't know is whether that country's anti-gay stance is so ingrained that its people cannot be shamed. If mainstream Ugandan thought is going to change, it won't be thanks to the United Nations or even courageous same-sex activists like David Kato. No matter how many gays and lesbians are in the closet, they're still outnumbered in a country of over 34 million. Instead, it'll take heterosexual citizens from governmental, religious, and media institutions to change their views and then go public with their newfound tolerance.
In the meantime, there are plenty of Americans who would benefit from watching the powerful Call Me Kuchu. It does the one thing that bigots and homophobes can't stand: it puts a human face on the targets of their unfounded, irrational hatred.
Call Me Kuchu (2013). Dir. / Scr.: Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Featured: David Kato, Christopher Senyonjo.
Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato Call Me Kuchu photo: Cinedigm.