Ratifying waves of gay marriage continue to conquer the U.S. with an LGBT community seemingly stronger than ever; however, when looking beyond U.S. boundaries, is the LGBT community receiving the same positive support? In late 2009, David Bahati introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to the Ugandan Parliament. This bill, which seemed to strip away basic human rights, would make homosexuality punishable by death. Thus, equipped with the new bill at hand, amazing directors Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright took it upon themselves to dive into the hardships the LGBT community in Uganda with the terrifyingly intimate documentary, ‘Call Me Kuchu’.
‘Call Me Kuchu’ allows the viewer to shadow David Kato and a group of powerful activists in their mission to shine light on the LGBT community and gain support from the Ugandan Parliament- but most importantly to live a normal lifestyle, protecting the most basic human need and right: to love. While watching ‘Call Me Kuchu’, I found myself falling in love with the strong and fearless characters, infuriated with the villains but most importantly, so wrapped up with a story that is not only compelling but universal no matter who you love or where you live. This is a story that showcases the waves of progress for the LGBT community not only in Uganda, but also around the world. I highly encourage you to meet the Kuchus, a disparaging word for homosexuality in Uganda, and fall in love with them as well.
I was given the incredible opportunity to interview the two directors, Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright, to gain a better understanding on what it was like shooting the empowering yet, alarming documentary:
Shelby Morrow: How did you two meet each other and what inspired you both to do a project like ‘Call me Kuchu’?
Katherine Fairfax Wright: We had seen each other a couple times just in normal social settings and got to know each other well enough to know that we had similar viewpoints, backgrounds and interests. Then Malika contacted me about a year later after…she was interested in doing a project in Uganda and I wrote back expressing my interests. We both had been following what was happening with the LGBT community in Uganda; so it was fortuities that we decided to come together and after the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was tabled formally in 2009, that is when we just decided to buy tickets and head over to Uganda to see what was happening…so in January 2010, that is when we took our first trip [to Uganda].
SM: So was it the [Anti-Homosexuality Bill] that really encouraged you both to head to Uganda and expose the Ugandan LGBT community?
KW: Well, we were in touch with [the LGBT community] before the bill was tabled and were tossing around the idea and starting to connect with people and get in touch with what was going on there in terms of the LGBT community building themselves, but it was when that bill was tabled that we decided to head over there as quick as possible.
Malika Zouhali-Worrall: We actually had spoken with David [Kato] before the bill was introduced, as part of our research for the film. He was aware that this bill was coming down the line…so even back then, he had been encouraging us to come to Uganda. Soon after the bill was officially introduced, we decided to go over there as soon as we could.
SM: So was your plan always to focus the documentary on David Kato, being that you had talked to him before?
MW: Well, he was known to be one of the most prominent activists in Uganda, so we initially just spoke with him to find out more about the community and when we went to Uganda for the first time, he was the first person we had met and he had introduced us to the whole community. So initially, we knew that we wanted to film with him quite a bit, but we didn’t know that he would be the main character. Really, it was after our first shoot that it became obvious and he had such a charismatic attitude and was essentially the most outspoken activist in the community.
SM: Watching ‘Call me Kuchu’, it seems as though when you are publicly gay in Uganda, it becomes essentially very dangerous to live there due to the intense backlash towards the LGBT community…how did you get the main characters to agree with doing the film, knowing that it would be a movie screened potentially around the world?
KW: Well, I think one thing that we noticed when we got there was, because we only knew what was readily available to us in the U.S. at the time in terms of reading articles or anything coming out of [Uganda], they made it seem like the LGBT community or anyone ultimately gay was a victim of these hate crimes all the time…and we were actually really surprised to find out that for the most part…they managed to live pretty normal lives and that is something we wanted to get across was to be careful not to over-sensationalize the issue and just tell it as honestly as we could. I think because of that, we were able to document more of just general life than we might have otherwise expected. I think that also had to partially do with the fact that a lot of [the characters] had already been “outed” by the newspapers, so their faces were already known pretty publicly and we weren’t outing them through our film, we were just finally allowing them to speak in their own voices, on their own terms in a way that they hadn’t been allowed to up until that point because it was normally these tabloids who were exposing them.
SM: In the documentary, there were moments where the main character’s houses were broken into, or they received threatening phone calls and even some of them lived in homes guarded by massive gates for extra security precaution; at any point did either one of you think, this may just be too life-threatening for myself?
MW: For the most part, we never really felt any threats to ourselves…In terms of us filming in Uganda…that never really led to any problems. After David [Kato] was killed of course, everything seemed to change quite a lot because I think a lot of people had never thought that something like that could happen. Even in the community, it was a complete shock…I think everyone thought that no one would dare to touch David because he was the most internationally known activist in the community. SO after [David’s death] everything, including our own understanding of the threats had to change. So definitely when we went back to shoot after he died, we were a little more concerned, especially because we were living with one of the activists, Naome.
SM: Speaking of tabloid magazines, how did you get the Managing Editor [Giles Muhame] of The Rolling Stone in Uganda to agree to talk to you guys?
KW: Without much difficulty, actually. Especially because that was at the point before the court’s decision, which was ultimately not in his favor, but I think at that point he thought that the courts would most definitely rule in his favor, so he was obviously more willing to speak to us because he felt like he was on the winning team. Also, he’s not someone who is very apologetic, and he is very proud of his stance on the issue because he very much believes in it and I think that’s why in general we had such access to people because the parties that we were following feel very strongly about their opinions and are happy to have them documented.
SM: As a viewer, it was really enraging to watch the interview with Giles after Kato’s horrific death, where he still condemned Kato to hell. What was it like for you two as both filmmakers and also having established such a strong relationship with Kato up until that point?
MW: I think at that point, we had become more accustomed to interviewing people like Giles and separating our own emotions from the process of interviewing because it was more useful for the film to have these people express their feelings and motivations without interfering too much. Clearly they were able to hang themselves with their own words. In that sense, we were very prepared for it…we new it just wouldn’t be helpful of us to start spreading our opinions. But definitely, it was a pretty difficult interview.
KW: For me at least, the thing that was the most maddening was that when we were interviewing some of the more religious people such as the as the pastors or the people who wrote the [Anti-Homosexual Bill], they were saying those words because of the way they were choosing to read The Bible, I personally think it is a misreading of The Bible, but nevertheless, it was their reading of The Bible, which was slightly harder to deny. What was so frustrating about Giles was that he was really just putting out to the world, and actually quite a large amount of readers, just flat out lies. For example, he told us how David [Kato] was HIV positive, how David was a pedophile and all these horrible things that were just flat out not true…that to me was so much more maddening than someone who is misguided religiously.
SM: Was there a particular character that either one of you identified with the most?
MW: Well, we ended up living with Naome for most of the filming...We lived with her for about two-and-a-half months over the course of two trips, I think we definitely got very close with her. She was very generous in terms of her hospitality but also in terms of really understanding what we were trying to do with the film and really trying to help us connect with the community and helping us stay on top of what was going on. [Naome] and David turned out to be the key people who really supported us in building trust with the rest of the community. I think that was really the key for getting the access that we got in the film.
KW: One of the nicest things about being a documentarian is that you get to fall in love with all the different virtues of all your various characters. Stosh for example, is someone who speaks so poetically and his words carry such weight…it was really humbling being there documenting because she speaks so gorgeously, people really just appreciate whatever she is saying. David’s charisma was really undeniable…but that’s also what is so hard about documenting is that you really appreciate these people’s characteristics and you end up basically having to tone them down more than you otherwise might like. For example, David’s jokes and his incredible wit…so much of that we had to take out of the final cut of the film because of timing reasons and audience reasons. Naome had such logistical and rational thought and such motherly love, so you really end up with this great spectrum of human qualities.
MW: The thing about Naome was that we thought she wouldn’t be a key character in the film at all, but when we were editing, quite literally every key scene that connected the characters involved Naome. We realized that in a way, she had become a nexus for all the different characters that we met…she ended up emerging almost organically in the film and as an essential character… ultimately in the editing process or in storytelling, you end up experiencing David’s death predominately through Naome’s eyes. We were really surprised at how key she became.
SM: Where are these characters now? Do you keep in contact with them?
KW: Yes, we do. Some of the key activists over the past couple of years have actually ended up leaving the country. Of course, the [LGBT] community is continually growing and people are filling up more positions, so it is not that the activist community is no longer existent.
SM: Do you think that it was your documentary that pushed the activists to really get this issue exposed on a larger spectrum?
MW: I think our documentary ended up revealing what key roles the activists in the [LGBT] community were playing in the exposure of the issue…I think our film actually ended up exposing what an incredible and courageous job this community was doing; in that way, it almost certainly supported the community hugely because it helped people realize what they are doing and realize that they need more support than ever.
SM: What do you want your viewers to experience during the film?
KW: Well, on the most simplistic level, I think our intention upon making this film was to show these LGBT activists as the human beings that they are. I think the biggest takeaway is…they should be allowed their fundamental human rights just like every other human being on this planet is…this film isn’t just about helping Ugandan LGBT activists getting their rights recognized, it’s also about helping this kid in Iowa come out to his parents or helping someone in Russia realize that he has a support network all over the world. I think that’s one of the ways this film can be really helpful is that is can be just sort of a conversation starter.
MW: I think one thing that was really important to us while making this film was that we wanted people to relate to David, not as a gay person, as a Ugandan or as an African, but to relate to him and the rest of the community as a human being. That’s why it was really key to follow them in their daily life and draw out universal aspects. Ultimately, I think we wanted someone who never thought of LGBT rights or even know someone LGBT to at least empathize with them and help them realize what is going on in another part of the world…or potentially even screen it to a straight Ugandan so they can see exactly what a LGBT Ugandan is going through.
SM: What has the overall feedback been on your film?
KW: Overall, the feedback has been pretty overwhelmingly positive, both from audience members that have gotten in touch with us to screenings and overviews.
I think that’s been really encouraging for the activists themselves as well…yeah, overall it has been a pretty positive experience. We are now getting into the stage where we are getting into doing more community screenings and we are starting to do church screenings.
MW: We have also been working on getting the film out to as many different audiences as we can. The film has been theatrically released in the US, Canada, the UK and Germany, as well as out on DVD and ITunes and so on. But we have also been working on high-level screenings of the film such as with the U.S. Department of State, the World Bank, the British Parliament and we are working on getting the film out more widely around the world especially in countries like Uganda…we’ve been wanting to get the film out there to not only inform the wider public but to also bring about change, not only in Uganda but in other countries that criminalize homosexuality and there are still about eighty countries in the world that criminalize homosexuality currently.
'Call Me Kuchu' was released by Cinedigm on DVD, Blu-ray and cable movies on demand on September 24. I can't stress how important this documentary is for the LGBT community around the world. Make sure to check out the trailer and more information about the film here!