By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Charles Taylor
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Brian Feinzimer
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By Amy Nicholson
The New Black is in conversation with three other films having to do with black homophobia—its realities and outsiders' perceptions of it—and its symbiotic relationship to whiteness. A black minister in Richen's film, speaking of behind-the-scenes clout wielded by white evangelicals in the modern black church observes that "I knew that white people were using their influence to buy my influence to advance their anti-gay agenda, and [many of us] bought into it."
Exploration of that same exploitive, bigoted dynamic is what drives two fantastic new documentaries about Uganda's deadly homophobia—Call Me Kuchu, co-directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, and God Loves Uganda, directed by Academy Award-winner Roger Ross Williams—as well as Shaun Kadlec's and Deb Tullmann's Born This Way, about Cameroon's nascent LGBT movement and the deeply entrenched homophobia it's up against.
All three films locate the roots of African homophobia in laws left over from colonial rule. There is grim irony in the fact that so many homophobic Africans see themselves as protecting the sanctity of their culture from contamination by the West, while their bigotry is itself the full-blown disease of Western influence. Unfortunately, that disease is being spread by white American evangelicals who see Africa, particularly Uganda, as a fertile marketplace for their brand of homo hatred, especially as they lose political ground and influence in America.
The Christian missionary traveling the globe to spread the gospel has historically been a conduit for, if not agent of, all manner of violence—physical, cultural and spiritual. As these powerful documentaries make clear, that continues to be the case. In God Loves Uganda, American evangelical Lou Engle of the International House of Prayer is shown preaching to his mega-church congregation, telling them, "Jesus is saying, ‘Guys, we're not gonna put guns in your hands. You're not gonna take over the world with guns and knives and swords. You're gonna take over the world by the power of the Holy Spirit.'"
Those words, a self-satisfied mandate for new-school colonialism, make you wonder if these people have ever read a word of Christ's teachings.
Gay-supportive Ugandan minister Kapya Kaoma narrates God Loves Uganda; he now lives in the U.S. with his wife and children and cannot return to Uganda under threat of violence for having challenged the power of American evangelicals in his country. Koama, who authored the Politicial Research Associates' 2012 report, "Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right Is Transforming Politics in Africa," speaks these words as the film opens: "I love Uganda. It's a very loving country, a caring country. But something frightening is happening that has the potential to destroy Uganda. And it's coming from the outside. If we don't move fast, I foresee a lot of deaths. The fire has already been set."
Conversations about homophobia almost inevitably circle back to conversations about race and culture. But whiteness as a race and culture, as an ideological practice, is rarely fingered as a culprit in the cultural wars raging over queer issues. Fred Phelps and his clan crisscross the country spewing homophobic bile under the guise of Christian activism, and their whiteness is never commented on; if they were black, their homophobia would be painted by many as a function of blackness, period. In the Republican Party's 2012 presidential primaries, a slew of white hopefuls all put forth scathingly homophobic platforms and never had their individual or collective bigotry attached to their race. Overseas, Vladimir Putin and other Russian politicians are enacting legislation that is medieval in its punitive approach to gay existence in Russia. Hundreds of thousands of French citizens (white Europeans) recently took to the streets in outrage over the passing of laws securing gay marriage. None of it is attached to the race of those legislating or rioting. Homophobia is never analyzed as a function and tool of hetero-normative, patriarchal, reactionary whiteness.
Collectively, through ample research, top-notch journalism and smartly deployed anecdotes, The New Black, Call Me Kuchu, God Loves Uganda and Born This Way illustrate the ways that prerogatives of whiteness have always been a driving factor in shaping attitudes toward same-sex realities, not only in America, but in countries and cultures around the world. They also illustrate how that continues to be the case, and how, if any substantive headway is going to be made in our collective slouch toward enlightenment on matters of queerness or equality, that simple fact has to be acknowledged.
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