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'Call me Kuchu' doc adds to conversation on gay rights around the globe

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/20/2013, 12:39 p.m.
'Call me Kuchu' doc adds to conversation on gay rights around the globe

Opening with a Ugandan religious leader delivering a propaganda-laced anti-homosexual speech to a happy crowd and switching immediately to a celebration of a Ugandan gay couple's anniversary, "Call Me Kuchu" cuts directly to the chase and lets the viewer know what it's in for.

The documentary, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worral, focuses on the African nation of Uganda and how it finds itself at odds with issues of gay rights, specifically regarding the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which advocates for life imprisonment of anyone who's found out to be gay; it used to call for death. The bill also calls for a three-year prison sentence for anyone who fails to turn in a known homosexual within 24 hours of finding out.

With most of the footage filmed three years ago, "Kuchu" presents itself as a time capsule for a movement that gains supporters and more brave voices every single day: the struggle for gay rights.

"Kuchu" is a term used by members the Ugandan LGBT community to describe themselves. The term finds its origins in the Swahili term "makuchu," which roughly translates to "queer." However, LGBT Ugandans use it as a term of unification and endearment.

Much of the documentary focuses on David Kato, Uganda's first openly gay man, who fights for and speaks out in favor of gay rights to anyone who wants to hear it, whether it's the United Nations, local courts or television shows.

With a documentary like "Kuchu," it would make sense to not do the traditional interview-with-subject style of filmmaking. "Kuchu" instead focuses on people either talking directly to the camera or being photographed giving speeches to masses of people. And it's all the better for it.

"Kuchu" catches Kato at his most witty, insightful and intelligent due to the lack of a traditional interview format. Catching the action as it happens works especially when presenting local publications like Rolling Stone (not to be confused with the American music magazine) publishing the addresses of alleged homosexuals with the headline "Hang Them," and blaming homosexuals for the bombings in Kampala.

Filming a country, and its biggest players, in the middle of any social battle is inherently fascinating for anyone interested in how the world functions. "Kuchu" demonstrates how a nation's people fight against a piece of legislation and for the dream of a more inclusive society.

With Kato's brutal murder occurring mere weeks after the documentary's filming, "Kuchu" becomes more of a tribute to one man's fight for his right to exist amidst a larger social movement for equality in one country.

"Call Me Kuchu" opened June 14 at Quad Cinemas. For more info, visit callmekuchu.com and www.quadcinema.com.