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LGBT Activists Challenge the Status Quo in Documentaries 'The New Black' and 'Call Me Kuchu'

Photo of Jacob Combs By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood June 25, 2013 at 1:06PM

To the outside observer, political movements can become reduced to a series of rarely-challenged expressions of conventional wisdom. But two new documentaries "The New Black" and "Call Me Kuchu," which are landing on the scene contemporaneously, present a compelling challenge to assumptions about LGBT rights.
Call Me Kuchu poster

At the beginning of Zouhali-Worrall and Wright's time filming in Kampala, Uganda, the anti-gay Member of Parliament David Bahati told the filmmakers, "There is no longer a debate in Uganda as to whether homosexuality is right or not. It is not."  Initially, the two women were inclined to believe him.  But when they met Kato, who began introducing them to other members of the kuchu community, they realized that this playful and passionate man was the lynchpin to a major shift taking place in Ugandan society.

In Kato's image, perhaps, "Call Me Kuchu" is not simply a tale of victimization, although the film does much to present the appalling state of LGBT rights in Uganda. In late 2009, for example, Bahati introduced a stunningly draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would have made homosexuality a capital offense and threatened jail time for those who neglected to turn in LGBT people to the authorities. The true focus of "Call Me Kuchu," however, is on Kato and his fellow activists, and the daunting work they undertook to advocate for their own rights.  

In early 2011, Kato was attacked and murdered in his home. Anti-gay protesters descended on the activist's funeral, heckling and threatening his contemporaries. At the end of "Call Me Kuchu," when a fellow activist learns that he is the next target, he shows little fear and begins to pack up his apartment to move to a new neighborhood. "Call Me Kuchu" is at its heart a tale of defiance, a story of a small and vibrant community proudly proclaiming its own vitality.

"They keep saying we are not here," Kato tells the film's directors before his death. "But as of late, we are here."

"The New Black" screened earlier this month in Los Angeles and last week in New York.  "Call Me Kuchu" played last week at New York's Quad Theater, and is currently playing at the Laemmle Music Hall in L.A. 

This article is related to: Documentary, Gay cinema, Politics

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.