Kuchu is a slang word for homosexuals in Uganda, but it might as well mean “pariah.” More than a year after Call Me Kuchu premièred at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, a bill that would make homosexuality punishable by death remains on the country’s Parliamentary agenda, though it keeps getting shoved into the next session. Generally, most Ugandans perceive being gay as the equivalent of being a child molester, not just morally but literally. In spite of the omnipresent threat of violence, the underground activist group SMUG (yes, that’s their name—Sexual Minorities UGanda) has fought back in court as best they can; this advocacy doc focuses on one of the group’s founders and leaders, David Kato, a unfailingly levelheaded and compassionate man who was the first person in Uganda’s history to voluntarily leave the closet. So it’s a genuinely shocking call to arms when, about an hour into the film—potential spoiler impending for those who haven’t followed the news on this subject—Kato is brutally murdered (off-camera), in what the film implies is retribution for his outspoken activism.
That implication, though very likely accurate, represents the sort of partisan obfuscation that often afflicts documentaries like this one. The official account—Kato was killed by a male prostitute after refusing to pay him; the murderer was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison—may well be part of a slur campaign, but for the film not even to mention it by way of refuting it is irresponsible journalism. Call Me Kuchu is also the kind of doc that makes a point of including footage in which sympathetic interview subjects cry, even if they’ve finished talking. The camera actually makes a sudden lunge (or rather, zoom) into one man’s face as the tears start to fall, as if terrified that viewers will miss them. There’s no doubt that Uganda is a living hell for its LGBT community, and viewers in need of some motivation to help will be productively appalled by the casually hateful remarks of several priests, politicians, and newspaper editors, whose attitudes skew horrifically close to the Final Solution. But apart from its laudable goal of raising awareness, the film doesn’t have much to offer. Even the time spent with Kato before he’s killed is fairly low-impact, mostly because he was such an even-tempered guy. Arguably, reading this review achieves the purpose for which the movie was created: Anyone who didn’t already know does now.