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Uganda News Puts Focus on Oscar Contender 'God Loves Uganda'

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood December 22, 2013 at 3:03PM

God would love Uganda to win an Oscar -- or rather “God Loves Uganda,” Roger Ross Williams documentary takedown of U.S. evangelicals and their poisoning of Africa’s political/spiritual atmosphere. How else to interpret Friday’s development – the passage by Ugandan lawmakers of long-pending legislation that calls for life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” in a country where being gay is already a crime? The Almighty must have picked Williams in the heavenly Oscar pool.
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Roger Ross Williams' 'God Loves Uganda'
Variance Films Roger Ross Williams' 'God Loves Uganda'

God would love Uganda to win an Oscar -- or rather “God Loves Uganda,” Roger Ross Williams documentary takedown of U.S. evangelicals and their poisoning of Africa’s political/spiritual atmosphere. How else to interpret Friday’s development – the passage by Ugandan lawmakers of long-pending legislation that calls for life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” in a country where being gay is already a crime? The Almighty must have picked Williams in the heavenly Oscar pool.

Current events, as Oscar watchers know, can and have influenced Oscar voting. “God Loves Uganda” is on the shortlist, and seems a good bet to be among the noms when they’re announced Jan. 16. The director, of course, would have liked Friday’s developments to have gone another way.

“It’s bad news for Uganda and all across Africa,” Williams said, having just arrived back in New York from Amsterdam. “Nigeria just passed a similar law. It’s a tidal wave of homophobia, sweeping across the continent.”

As America passes marriage equality, state by state, “country by country the world is basically going backward” – abetted by so-called Christians from America. The brand new Ugandan legislation – an activist in Kampala was arrested, Williams said, 20 minutes prior to this interview, and less than two hours after the laws were passed  – will mean life imprisonment for second-time offenders; prosecution of NGOs or any other groups that serve the LGBTI community, as well as journalists who write about it; and require Ugandans to turn in anyone they know who is gay, or go to prison themselves.

It’s all very Soviet, which makes sense: Williams said the influence of the American evangelicals is being abetted by a “Putin effect,” Russia having passed its own homophobic laws. And India, too. Williams -- Oscar-watchers will remember him having his microphone hijacked by a seemingly unhinged producer during the 2010 broadcast – knows the power of the Academy Awards.

“If there’s anything I learned,” he said, “it’s that the Oscars are good for bringing attention to an issue.” His short film, “Music by Prudence,” about a disabled African musician, “had a huge affect on the disabled in Africa and actually saved lives. The power of Hollywood is so immense. I was reading a piece in a Ugandan paper about the shortlist. They’re very excited that the country might win an Oscar.” Even, apparently, if it makes Uganda look like a madhouse.

The characters in “God Loves Uganda” range from the saintly, gay-supportive Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of the Church of Uganda,  to the Joel Osteen disciple Robert Kayanja, who sort of lets the gay-baiting cat out of the bag: When Ugandan churchmen said no to homosexuals, donations from Western churches went up threefold. The representative of those churches -- scrubbed, eager and a bit glazed -- preach hatred with a smile on their faces and listen to white Christian rock (and though possessed by the holy spirit, they still dance like white people).

How did Williams infiltrate these groups? “They knew the first day I got there -- they said, ‘You’re part of the gay agenda.’ But my family’s all ministers and we have a megachurch of our own in Pennsylvania. So I could speak their language. And they had great hopes that they could pray the gay away.” These folks believe in prayer, he said. “They told me, ‘We are praying so hard that this film will be directed by God.’ And I said it would.”

Here at home, Scott Lively, the American fundamentalist who figures so strongly in “God Loves Uganda” and has been influential in Uganda, is being sued in federal court by the Center for Constitutional Rights. As the CCR website explains, “the suit alleges that Lively’s involvement in anti-gay efforts in Uganda, including his active participation in the conspiracy to strip away fundamental rights from LGBTI persons, constitutes persecution. This is the first known Alien Tort Statute (ATS) case seeking accountability for persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Readers may not be able to do anything about Uganda, but they can support the CCR, here. 

This article is related to: God Loves Uganda, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Academy Awards, Awards, Documentary, Documentaries, Oscars, Interviews, Interviews, Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

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.