Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Ranked From Best To Worst: Every Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Winner Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck The 10 Best Films Of 2002 The 10 Best Films Of 2002 Check Out These Minimalist, Old School Paperback-Style Posters For The Films Of Wes Anderson Check Out These Minimalist, Old School Paperback-Style Posters For The Films Of Wes Anderson First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' The 30 Most Anticipated Movies Of The 2015 Sundance Film Festival The 30 Most Anticipated Movies Of The 2015 Sundance Film Festival The 10 Best Films Of 2001 The 10 Best Films Of 2001 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment 2015 Oscar Nominees Get The Honest Poster Treatment Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary 'Great Directors' With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More Watch: Full 90-Minute Documentary 'Great Directors' With David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes And More "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 20 Most Anticipated Foreign Films Of 2015 The 20 Most Anticipated Foreign Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point

Review: 'God Loves Uganda' A Powerful Profile Of Religiously Fueled Intolerance

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist October 19, 2013 at 3:38PM

This history of Africa is unfortunately one that has seen exploitation of its people, land and resources. Though it contains a wonderful diversity of people and culture, even to this day, the riches it contains that can be monetized are targets for outside influence. But what Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams presents in his documentary "God Loves Uganda" is a unique, disturbing case of what could arguably be called spiritual exploitation.
1
God Loves Uganda

This history of Africa is unfortunately one that has seen exploitation of its people, land and resources. Though it contains a wonderful diversity of people and culture, even to this day, the riches it contains that can be monetized are targets for outside influence. But what Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams presents in his documentary "God Loves Uganda" is a unique, disturbing case of what could arguably be called spiritual exploitation. A country still finding its footing after decades of dictatorial and military rule, and continuing to try and embrace democracy even as corruption runs rampant, Uganda is fertile ground for anyone hoping to influence a vulnerable public.

Enter, the International House Of Prayer aka IHOP, yes, just like the restaurant chain, though by the end you'll wish they just served pancakes. Led by Lou Engle, a self-confessed former porn addict who found God and never looked back, this is a highly successful, financially resourceful, almost corporately structured powerhouse of Christian fundamentalism. (Jono Hall, Media Director for the organization notes IHOP has over 1,000 full-time staff, managing over 80 departments; it's huge.) And it's Africa that the constantly energized Engle views as a "firepot of spiritual renewal and revival." It's a place where they can do good, honest charity work, but Uganda also represents a place where the ultimate Christian empire can be built.

God Loves Uganda

That's the suggestion made by Reverend Kapya Kaoma, a priest and former Ugandan now residing in the U.S., whose research into the influence of the religious right in his native country has made it impossible for him to return without putting his own life in danger. And what he describes is a perfect storm of opportunism and policy that have spiraled into a heartbreaking chronicle of how sexual intolerance is bred from the ground up. But perhaps more unnerving, is the role of U.S. policy and groups such as IHOP, in stoking those flames. The combination of George Bush's administration pushing abstinence-only HIV prevention in the country, a clear influence from his supporters on the religious right, combined with groups like IHOP taking an active stake in building Uganda's infrastructure, providing schools, orphanages, healthcare facilities and more, gave leaders incredible leverage to push the message they wanted.

And that message, delivered by healthy, bright-eyed, mostly white, midwest American youths from IHOP, to a country where over 50% of the population is under fifteen years old, is that Jesus saves ... unless you're gay. As the title of the film suggests, "God Loves Uganda," but the moral and ethical vacuum in the country has been filled by religious leaders both from abroad and at home (though trained in the West) who have the captive ear of politicians. And this unfiltered message that homosexuality is a perversion to be prosecuted has led to bills, such as the one introduced by David Bahadi, that would make gay sex punishable by death. And pushed by folks like Martin Ssempa, who shamelessly preaches alongside a slideshow of scat pornography while claiming it to be some kind of accurate depiction of the "homosexual lifestyle," has created a climate of pure fear for gays in the country.

God Loves Uganda

As you might imagine, Williams' film is as frequently upsetting as it is fascinating, but it's not without its share of heroes fighting the tide. Kaoma is certainly one, who continues his research in Boston, while Ugandan priest Christopher Sengonjo continues to speak out for the human rights of LGBT people, an act that has left the former bishop excommunicated. Their bravery makes the contrast to young believers and missionaries such as Jesse and Rachelle Digges all the more defined. Their well-meaning work is also blindingly oblivious, while skirting culturally insensitive at times. Living mostly on a compound of likeminded individuals and training them to spread the good word in Uganda, the machinery of their operation is, unsurprisingly, rather soulless.

Running a tight 80-odd minutes, Williams' documentary is as concise as it is affecting and powerful, but he leaves just enough room for some indirect hits at some of the more loathsome subjects of the documentary. There is an unspoken emphasis that there is tremendous financial gain to be found in this systemic oppression of gays and lesbians, underscored by the quiet reveal that mansion-owning and influential Ugandan minister Robert Kanyaja, is also one of the five wealthiest people in the country. And the film's closing shot of an elderly, rural Ugandan woman's distrustful eyes taking in the eager words of a new missionary, ends the movie on an appropriately sardonic note. When you can't weep, you can only laugh and shake your head. "God Loves Uganda" surely, but the people in power aren't actually preaching his word. [B] 

This article is related to: Reviews, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates