Call Me Kuchu

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Photo courtesy Cinedigm.
Photo courtesy Cinedigm.

Sometimes the line between fact and fiction becomes blurred, allowing doubt and disbelief to taint the actual truth. Yet, the truth eventually comes out, even if sometimes it takes a tragedy to set it free. And often art, in any form, provides a vehicle for the truth to travel around the world.

World-premiering at the 2012 Berlin International Festival, Berlinale, Call Me Kuchu captures such a truth and the tragedy behind it. Directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, and distributed by Cinedigm, the award-winning documentary offers a portrait of the young but determined Ugandan LGBT community, through stories of LGBT individuals and equal rights activists. At the center of the story is David Kato, the first openly gay Ugandan, and his life, until it was taken away by a murderer, and the legacy he left behind.

“[Call Me Kuchu] is a clear window into what spring-boarded the [LGBT] movement and what is now being carried on,” Ugandan-American actor and playwright Ntare Mwine [A&U, December 2012] comments. “For me, the film is like a torch that’s been passed forward, because at the time no one knew what was happening. That’s what made it so powerful in the States, [because] sometimes you actually have to see the hate, see the resistance firsthand, to have change embezzle these doubts.”

The tragedy and truth uncovered by Call Me Kuchu have a two-fold effect—on one hand there’s the Ugandan LGBT community and its fight for justice (“kuchu” is a term some translate as “queer,” yet a term embraced and used by Ugandan LGBT individuals to identify themselves as members of one united community); on the other hand there’s the spread of HIV/AIDS in Uganda re-enabled by an anti-gay bill yet to be voted into law. As exposed in the documentary, the so-called “kill the gays” bill “leave[s] HIV to roam around.” The bill fuels the spread of HIV by forcing individuals back into the closet, as well as corrective rapes and threats to LGBT individuals and their supporters. Maybe most troubling is a section of the bill that deals with “aggravated homosexuality,” and applies to individuals living with HIV/AIDS, among others. In the original anti-gay bill, the punishment for “aggravated homosexuality” was death. Later on, the death penalty was taken off the table, but imprisonment for life remained as an option. In response to this very anti-gay bill, some Western countries have threatened to cut off aid to Uganda, including ARV medications.

As portrayed in the documentary, the Ugandan AIDS situation can become dire, as can the fate of the country’s LGBT community. The story of Call Me Kuchu is powerful, brutally honest, but also inspiring, offering an unforgettable lesson in and about life, and also about our purpose in life. In many ways the documentary brings the story of “kuchus” home to us, thus helping us focus on our own contributions to better the world.

Call Me Kuchu opened this June in New York City and Los Angeles. More information about the documentary is available on-line, at www.callmekuchu.com.

—Reporting by Alina Oswald

Alina Oswald is a writer, photographer, and the author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS. Contact her at www.alinaoswald.com.