In September 2011, I was invited by a young filmmaker, Roger Ross Williams, to be part of a panel at “Good Pitch” in San Francisco to support his undercover and highly controversial film about religious fundamentalism’s obsession with homosexuality in Uganda.
Working Films is an organization that brings together emerging filmmakers with NGOs, philanthropists and foundations to support emerging really good filmmaking.
“God Loves Uganda” was one of six films being pitched. They all dealt with contemporary social issues and were often stories that had not become part of mainstream media attention. For example, one of the short film trailers looking for funding support dealt with the very difficult issue of rape and sexual abuse in the U.S. armed forces. How do we tell difficult stories through film that are beyond the popular obsession with entertainment or trivia? It is very difficult for young filmmakers to break into mainstream media without this kind of networking.
One of the organizations present, New York-based Cinereach, awarded more than $500,000 in grants to 22 feature-length film projects, including “God Loves Uganda.” More than 2,000 applications were submitted for Cinereach funding, from filmmakers in more than 100 countries. The 22 grantees in this round of funding were 12 non-fiction films, seven fiction films and three hybrid projects.
Today, “God Loves Uganda” will be shown for the first time in the U.S. at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Congratulations to Williams and his team.
Williams directed and produced “Music By Prudence,” winner of the 2010 Academy Award for documentary short subject, making him the first African-American to win an Oscar for directing and producing a film.
He has produced and directed dozens of hours of nonfiction programming for major television networks and cable channels. Currently, Williams has several projects in development, including a feature narrative film about the African-American Baptist church titled “Black Sheep.” Growing up in an African-American Baptist community as a gay man, Williams wanted to learn more about religion in Africa:
“The more I learned about religion in Africa, the more intrigued I became. It was as if the continent was gripped with religious fervor. And the center of it was Uganda. I began to research; I took my first trip to Uganda. Uganda, I discovered is the number one destination for American missionaries. The American evangelical movement has been sending missionaries and money, proselytizing its people, and training its pastors for a generation; building schools, manning hospitals, even running programs for training political leaders. Its President and First Lady are evangelical Christians, as are most members of its Parliament and 85% of the population.
I began meeting in Uganda – and in America – some of the missionaries who have helped create Ugandaʼs evangelical movement. They were often large hearted. They were passionate and committed. Many of them were kids from Americaʼs heartland. And they were, I began to discover, part of a larger Christian evangelical movement that believed that Biblical law should reign supreme – not just in peopleʼs hearts – but in the halls of government. This movement, fueled by American money and idealism, had produced a noxious flower – Ugandaʼs Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which made death as one of the penalties for homosexuality. Committed to the idea that God wanted all forms of “sexual immorality” eliminated from the earth,” it was the reason why Uganda had dismantled its successful AIDS program in favor of an abstinence policy.
I thought about following the activists-brave and admirable men and women-who were fighting against these policies. But I was more curious about the people who, in effect, wanted to kill me. (According to the provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, I could be put to death or imprisoned.) Notably, almost every evangelical I met – American or Ugandan – was polite, agreeable, even charming. Yet I knew that if the bill passed, there
would be blood on the streets of Kampala.
What explains that contradiction? What explains the murderous rage and ecstatic transcendence? In the well-known trope about Africa, a white man journeys into the heart of darkness and finds the mystery of Africa and its unknowable otherness. I, a black man, made that journey and found – America.”
“Call Me Kuchu” showing in San Diego
“God Loves Uganda” is the second film to recently come out and courageously tackle the subject of rampant religious-based homophobia and its effects on LGBT people globally.
On Thursday, Jan. 24, Human Rights Watch will be opening its San Diego film festival with “Call Me Kuchu” at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. The film has won several important awards, including at the Berlin Film Festival, and is the product of two young producers. Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katy Fairfax Wright, like Roger Ross Williams, want to use film as an agent for major social transformation.
The film records the last year in the life of Ugandan activist David Kato and where Williams film delves into the tactics and the theological cul de sacs that leads to LGBT dehumanization (he goes undercover to film a lot of the training tactics of the Christian Right in Africa), “Call Me Kuchu” paints a traumatic canvas for the victims of this propaganda through activists like Kato.
Both films will be difficult for most American audiences to watch and for this reason will never been mainstream blockbusters. Thank God for organizations like Cinereach and Working Films who support emerging filmmakers like Roger, Malika and Katy.
If you live in San Diego, you can get tickets to see "Call Me Kuchu" by contacting MOPA.
No doubt, “God Loves Uganda” will be coming to San Diego soon.
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.