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Friday, May 30, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: God Loves Uganda

Posted By on Fri, May 30, 2014 at 3:06 PM

click image A Ugandan street missionary in God Loves Uganda. - FULL CREDIT PRODUCTIONS
  • Full Credit Productions
  • A Ugandan street missionary in God Loves Uganda.

This week in movies you missed: Last December, Uganda’s parliament passed an act that makes “aggravated homosexuality” punishable with life imprisonment. Since then, according to a group called Sexual Minorities Uganda, violence against the gay community has increased tenfold. In April, the Ugandan government raided an AIDS treatment program on the grounds that its real mission was “training youth in homosexuality.”

Being gay has never been easy in Uganda, but where did the recent groundswell of fear and hatred come from? This 2013 documentary from Roger Ross Williams argues that it started with American evangelicals who view this predominantly Christian African nation as the perfect place to put their fundamentalist beliefs in practice.

What You Missed
In Missouri, at the HQ of a Pentecostal mission called the International House of Prayer (yes, IHOP), a group of fresh-faced young people prepare for their upcoming trip to Uganda. They talk about helping orphans and preaching a gospel of love.

Meanwhile, in Uganda, the streets are dotted with signs exhorting citizens to “Stay a Virgin” and pray away the gay. Native missionaries stop cars and hand out leaflets. A popular, well-funded minister preaches against homosexuality, and a member of parliament proposes a law that would make it punishable by death. A tabloid ironically called Rolling Stone prints photos of known or suspected gay people under the words “Hang Them.”

click to enlarge At the International House of Prayer
  • At the International House of Prayer
How are the two groups connected? By evidence that is circumstantial, but compelling. Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian minister living in the U.S., offers footage of a 2009 workshop in Uganda where author Scott Lively whipped the crowd into a frenzy with talk of gay Nazis and the “recruiting” of children to homosexuality. Various American extremists speak of Uganda as a place where values that are unpopular at home can take root.

When Williams asks the friendly IHOP missionaries about the then-proposed antigay law, they plead ignorance. They’re not sure what it says, they claim, but they’re sure the western media are blowing it all way out of proportion.

Why You Missed It
You may have caught God Loves Uganda on PBS’ "Independent Lens" this month. It’s now on DVD, iTunes and Netflix Instant.

Should You Keep Missing It?
Not if you care about human rights and can stomach a depressing, often disturbing film. Williams juxtaposes the relentlessly upbeat missionaries with footage of David Kato, a Ugandan gay activist who was bludgeoned to death in 2011. At his funeral, the minister in attendance seized the opportunity to inveigh against homosexuality, sending the event into disarray.

It’s a wrenching, cinematic scene — especially when former Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in Uganda, delivers his own impassioned counterpoint as Kato’s coffin is lowered into the ground.

Because God Loves Uganda focuses on the American evangelical contingent, it shows us almost nothing of Uganda’s gay community (Kato being the exception). The film left me wanting to know more about the people who would fall victim to the law.

Luckily, Netflix’s “Because You Watched” feature (offering a relevant suggestion for once) guided me to another documentary called Call Me Kuchu (2012). Directed by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright, it focuses on Kato and his fellow activists, such as Naome Ruzindana, founder of the Coalition of African Lesbians (“kuchu” is slang for “gay”). It follows them in their struggle to seek an injunction against Rolling Stone for inciting violence against them and other LGTB Ugandans.

I’m normally not a fan of advocacy docs, but this one is highly watchable, partly because Kato was a charismatic, dryly humorous guy — I loved his relationship with his more traditional mom — and partly because it’s impossible not to boo and hiss at people like the managing editor of Rolling Stone, who smugly justifies his rabble-rousing tactics. (The paper has also attempted to link gays to terrorism.)

Together, these two docs give faces to the news stories about Uganda. To be honest, they don’t inspire much hope: A staggering range of Ugandans seem eager to express their hatred of gays, complete with egregious misconceptions, on camera.

Perhaps some will argue that gay rights are a “western value” that other nations shouldn’t attempt to impose on Uganda. But Ugandans like Kato and Senyonjo (who also appears in both docs) offer an eloquent voice to the contrary. And Williams’ thesis about the real origin of those values is worth serious consideration.

Verdict: It left me informed — and angry.

In Theaters This Week
Seth MacFarlane explores A Million Ways to Die in the West. Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in a Disney Sleeping Beauty retelling. And food activists are Fed Up with America’s obesity epidemic (at the Savoy).

This Week in Your Living Room
Endless Love, a remake of the 1980 flick that Bette Midler called an “endless movie” at the Academy Awards, and why do I remember this stuff? Also, The Life Aquatic Criterion edition.

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God Loves Uganda
Rated NR · 83 min. · 2013
Official Site: www.godlovesuganda.com
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Writer: Roger Ross Williams
Producer: Julie Goldman and Roger Ross Williams

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