The world has a new villain: of all the Leviticus-wielding, rights bruising, conscienceless crusaders in Catherine Fairfax Wright's and Malika Zouhali Worrall's inspirational new release Call Me Kuchu, Giles Muhame, Editor of the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone, stands out for his particular brand of foul play. What is his villainy? Actually it isn't just the salacious 'Hang' homosexuals headlines his paper ran two years ago, nor even the printing of the names and addresses of Ugandan LGBT people with pictures, inciting Rolling Stone's readership through all sorts of child grooming grotesqueries and nonsensical scare tactics; it's more than this, it's his ability to smile and smile and be a villain, his twenty-something precocious plausibility in the face of monstrous lies.
Call Me Kuchu is an important film, not because of its exposure of the cruel treatment of gay men and women in East Africa, the so-called 'corrective rapes', murders, daily degradations and, of course, Uganda's notorious 'Anti-Homosexuality' Bill, which has been threatening to rear its ugly head again this year; but because it's actually full of hope and love. It centres on the Ugandan gay rights campaigner and Rolling Stone's principal legal scourge, David Kato and the small group of brave dedicated people around him who work to change attitudes, against, it must be said, a backdrop of violent homophobia so daunting it's hard to imagine how anyone could be open about their sexuality. The film sets out to chart over a two year period the lives of these people, kuchus as they call themselves, lovingly appropriating an old Swahili word. It's forensically meticulous and heart-warming at the same time. Kato comes across as a kind, gentle, vulnerable character, a lover of his small farm, his bolt hole away from the harshness of Kampala's politicians and evangelicals where his day dreams focus on starting a gay village in which LGBT Africans might live and work in safety. But he's also steely in his fighting spirit and single minded in his pursuit of justice and human rights for Uganda's beleaguered homosexual people.
The film highlights other individuals who have impacted on this issue. David Bahati, the Member of Parliament behind Uganda's notorious Bill, a cool opportunist who can tell us that 'There is no longer a debate in Uganda as to whether homosexuality is right or not - it is not', dismissing the inexorable march of history with a wave of his hand. Then there's Naome, Kato's closest friend and a fully committed partner in the struggle for LGBT rights who's not afraid to beard the enemy in his own lair. We see the American evangelicals who have stirred up this hornets' nest of homophobic hatred in the first place, but we also follow the wonderful, tireless Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, expelled from the Ugandan Anglican Church for his theological defence of homosexuality, but determined to help establish a kuchu counselling centre nevertheless.
Two years into the project David Kato was murdered. This isn't a spoiler, it's a well-known fact (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12295718) and his death has still not properly been investigated, the police and courts, even the man responsible denying for the benefit of the World's press any homophobic motive. No one among Kato's friends and colleagues believes a word of this. The official line that he was murdered in a dispute with a male sex worker over payment is such an old smear it would be laughable were it not so nasty. Despite knowing what will happen, the murder still comes as a shock, and thereafter a very different tone overtakes the film, tragic, heart-rending, mournful, a darkness that almost obliterates the light. We shouldn't come away with anger or feelings of revenge, though. I suspect David Kato would not want that. We should come away with regret that the thread of a life so beautiful has been severed, but we should love what there is and what there still can be and resolve to move those around us and those far away towards a better understanding of what is the honourable side of history.
And as for Giles Muhame, there's little doubt that the publishing of names and addresses, including Kato's, has led to violence and intimidation. After Kato's murder Muhame expressed his sympathy for the family but nevertheless couldn't resist claiming (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/27/uganda-paper-david-kato-death) that he 'brought death upon himself. He hasn't lived carefully. Kato was a shame to this country.' Still smiling his Machiavellian smile, and notwithstanding a much vaunted moral-crusade-in-the-making contention now pursued on his Twitter account (https://twitter.com/Gilespies), he can confess that such headlines sell papers and that, I think, is the real villainy. But in the spirit of the film and of David Kato, I suppose we should forgive him.
On release from 2nd November. Visit the Call Me Kuchu website (http://callmekuchu.com/about/) for details of screenings.