A mother and her daughter sit on a mattress on the floor of a blank room. Back to the wall the little girl tries to curtail her mother's apologies. She's heard them before but she's not aggrieved; she just wants to spare her the ordeal of repetition. "It's okay. Put a little smile on your face please" says the child. She has perfected that very adult kind of concealment, using a sing-song tone to mask discomfort. It's a heart-breaking plea and a brave attempt at protection. It also marks the moment that Micah Fink's "The Abominable Crime" - an exploration of homophobia in Jamaica - gets right under your skin, where it stays for the next 65 minutes.
Khayla Edwards continues to look on as her mother, Simone, shows her gunshot wounds to the camera. She narrates the internal organs decimated by the bullet. She knows more than any child should. "My momma got shot and I can't get it out of my head". What she does not know is that the attackers tried to shoot out her mother's vagina, because, they said, she had no use for it. Now the two live like refugees (Simone's own comparison), fleeing their home for fear that next time neither of them will survive.
Simone is a lesbian in Jamaica, another of the world's countries with punitive anti-gay legislation. She is, she says, playing a game of hide and seek. She knows what will happen if they find her. It will be the same as the fate that met her friend Brian who dared to "be a gay and be a proud gay".
Activist Maurice Tomlinson has a lot in common with other campaigners in parts of the globe with brutal anti-gay laws: he felt he could only support the cause if he hid his homosexuality; he was repeatedly hounded by a homophobic media with no care that their revelations might cost him his life, and, like so many others, he was subject to repeated death threats. Like Simone, Maurice had to flee his home when his marriage to Tom was revealed. He is also relentlessly, fiercely brave.
And, as it is in Uganda, and in Cameroon, Christianity is central to this story. Loathing gay people, hounding and persecuting them is doing God's work, apparently. How often does it need repeating that this makes no sense even if you accept the teachings of Christianity itself? I don't personally, but I can read, and it seems pretty clear that the new law of the Gospel is meant to overtake that of the Old Testament. Jesus's is a philosophy of love; there is little of that to be found amongst the supposedly God-loving homophobes interviewed here. These people have made an industry out of hate; it's a sad irony that this is precisely the kind of exploitation of God's message that the New Testament warns against.
Fink made a number of excellent decisions over the course of this film. A stand-out example is the choice to include lines from popular dance-hall songs. Set against the stories of Khayla, Simone and Maurice they take on a new, nasty force. "Battyboy get up and run at gunshot me head back" / "The Battyman get away but the lesbian is dead". Which is the line Simone heard as her shooters ran into the night? Popular culture often colludes with the hate that fuels these crimes; Fink's lightness of touch in revealing these links allows the implications to speak for themselves.
This important film is as much about resistance as it is about oppression. It is about a community who have to be fearless, even though there is so much to fear. It is also a story of negligence on the part of some Western governments (though certainly not all, Holland comes out well from this film). Through tears Simone notes that she is the "walking dead"; this comes moments after being denied a US visa. The nastier side of Western immigration politics always includes voices casting doubt on the claims of LGBT individuals seeking asylum. "The Abominable Crime" shows how real persecution is, and how seriously everyone should be taking it.
The onus isn't on LGBT people to prove this; the persecution is open and palpable and indisputably happening. But it is on us to support people like Maurice and Simone in their continuing struggle.
"The Abominable Crime" plays tomorrow and Sunday at the BFI Flare LGBT Film Festival in London. Get tickets here: (and if it says 'sold out' remember they often release more tickets before the screening).
On Sunday the BFI will be hosting a round-table discussion about the state of
LGBT rights around the world. /bent will be there - to come along too get free tickets here.
You can learn more about J-Flag, the Jamaican LGBT advocacy group featured in the film here.
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