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Film Review: 'Call Me Kuchu'

★★★★☆
A heartfelt and profoundly affecting exposé into the daily struggle faced by Uganda's severely persecuted LGBT community, Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall's Call Me Kuchu (2012) stands head and shoulders above a great deal of this year's more populist, knowingly 'cinematic' documentaries. Preferring to let its thoughtful and eloquent subjects do the talking (bigoted Rolling Stone editors aside), Wright and Worrall's film will hopefully lead to a heightened awareness of an issue that had already caught the attention of the global community, yet in a contemplative, non-sensationalist way.

The late veteran activist David Kato (sadly killed in a brutal, homophobic hammer attack towards the end of the film's shoot) is our central guide into the type of volatile existence that is unfortunately endured by both him and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women in modern Uganda. Commonly cast out by the local media, government officials and religious heads as 'homos', or via the derogatory synonym 'kuchus', Kato and his fellow outcasts fight tirelessly against discrimination in all its many forms, even as the government introduces a new 'Anti-Homosexuality Bill', effectively criminalising their chosen way of life.

From the very off, Kato grabs the attention - a softly-spoken, highly educated individual who has taken it upon himself to serve as spokesperson and effective champion for LGBT human rights. Several central antagonists stand in his path, including the reprehensible, lackadaisical editor of Ugandan Rolling Stone Giles Muhame and the fanatical Pastor Maelle, who bemoans the white West's pro-gay stance. A number of high profile court cases unfurl as Kato fights against the inflammatory publication of photos and/or addresses of perceived homosexual miscreants, battling the recurrent belief that the option of 'being gay' isn't recognised as a basic human right. Thankfully, on one occasion at least, this extreme opinion is quashed and dismissed.

No one is seemingly safe from this ongoing barrage of mistrust and suspicion. Stosh, a confident and outspoken female-to-male transman, is forced into reclusiveness on pain of stoning following a printed photo of her kissing a woman in a local 'kuchu' club (again thanks to the incendiary Rolling Stone). Emotionally broken, Stosh (the victim of a 'corrective rape' as a child) confesses on camera that she no longer sleeps due to the fear of violent night-time reprisals - a nightmare tragically realised in the form of Kato's 2011 murder. Call Me Kuchu is replete with a number of similarly melancholic tales, yet admirably, Wright and Worrall still manage to end this touching doc on an optimistic note of impassioned resilience.

Daniel Green

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