The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Film Reviews

Ugandan Rainbow: Call Me Kuchu Reviewed
Gary Green , March 1st, 2013 10:28

Gary Green takes a look at Call Me Kuchu, a film documenting the struggles of LGBT rights activist David Kato in Uganda

There are documentaries, and then there are works like Call Me Kuchu, directed and written by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, that transcend such a mere definition. This articulate polemic against the anti-gay bill in Uganda resonates because its subject matter is one of constant social and political debate, and its urgency is only matched by its constant human perspective.

'Kuchu’ is a Ugandan term allocated to anyone falling under the LGBT umbrella, and one proudly adopted by those committed to fighting an anti-gay bill that could make homosexuality punishable by death in the country. The film mainly follows one of the movement’s key activists, David Kato, and his effort in fighting the passing of said bill, along with fellow campaigner Naome who offers an honest insight into the personal life of someone who is non-straight in a predominantly anti-gay environment. Moments such as these, where the film casts its gaze toward the impact the struggle has on a domestic level, serve to ground the wider issues at play - all of which germinate in a variety of settings, from the courtrooms to the streets themselves. Even establishments such as Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper help to spread vitriolic anti-gay propaganda, furthering a governmental regime that keeps turning more and more totalitarian. For instance, the anti-gay bill put forward decrees that parents should even report their own children if they suspect them to be homosexual.

The audacious bravery of the vibrant individuals portrayed in the face of such a socio-political climate is nothing short of inspiring, and so is Wright and Xouhali-Worrall’s portrayal of them. The camera orbits their good deeds, and documents them in a light that isn’t heroic, but undeniably human. They have partners, mothers, fathers, and such relationships are strained – especially when great loss is involved. The film doesn’t pull any of the dramatically flashy tricks that seem to be popular in recent documentary filmmaking, rather insisting on a grainy, shaky aesthetic that was probably borne from necessity over any directorial moments of opulence. The film is all the better for it. Its sometimes scrappy elements add to its aptitude for capturing the sheen-free reality of LGBT Ugandans, their plight providing all the on-screen electricity we need. Sometimes, the camera caters to an almost too close agenda; delving into the heart of the action, unafraid of the warring factions either side of it. However, any uncomfortable viewing is merely the result of our own unwillingness to grasp the realities presented. You watch on regardless, because Kuchu has not only engaged your eyes, but your heart too.

The film’s stance is unquestionably pro-gay, but paints a more rounded picture of the debate by also covering the ‘against’ camp. Indeed it does well to convey the beyond-ancient doctrines still at work in what is supposed to be a modern civilization. For instance, the managing editor of Rolling Stone, Giles Muhame, elucidates a view on homosexuality that is as inarticulate as it is violent. It’s no wonder Call Me Kuchu got made with this palette of opinion colouring the country. In providing balanced viewpoints, the documentary’s motive is even clearer for all to see.

Call Me Kuchu inspires in its viewers an ardent desire for change in a corner of the world most of us have little-to-no affiliation with. But thanks to the filmmakers’ sensitive handling of some delicate and - toward the end - shocking events, we are placed right in the middle of a struggle that isn’t just someone else’s problem, but ours too. Call us Kuchu.

Call Me Kuchu is available now on DVD

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.