“STORIES OF OUR LIVES”
Kenya’s LGBT Community
“Stories Of Our Lives” is a collection of five short films about the experiences of gay and lesbian men and women in Kenya. The stories are based on real interviews and give a personal insight into the reality of being gay in Kenya. The central emotion, as we can imagine, is fear and while this is not necessarily unique to Africa, but there are other shocks here that include questions asked that are personal, blunt and intrusive. We also see archive footage of demonstrations against “gayism” and its promotion in Kenya. There are others themes that recur such as the threatening knock at the door, escape, intimacy behind closed doors What makes this such an important film is that it is basically all we have from the “dark” continent, a place that is plagued by homophobia and repression of the human will. Director Jim Chuchu is to be commended for taking us into the lives of gay and lesbian Kenyans in this film. The fact that the documentary is shot in black-and-white emphasizes the issues that our African brothers and sisters have to deal with. Some of what we see here includes a high-school lesbian couple that is divided by societal pressures; a gay man falls for a straight best friend; buddies turn into enemies when one visits a gay club; a Kenyan researcher hooks up with a white male sex-worker for the first time; and a lesbian couple fantasizes about how to deal with an encroaching LGBT witch-hunt.
Throughout the film we are reminded of the omnipresent struggles that queer Kenyans face in their daily lives. Homophobia is institutionalized in Kenya. The film comes to us from The NEST Collective, a Nairobi-based multidisciplinary arts collective–a confederation of ten artists who have claimed the transformational mission to challenge and dissolve myths and norms of Kenyan identity. They went around the country compiling the experiences of LGBTQI people as a first step toward breaking the silence enforced on queer people. They collected some 200 interviews that became a mosaic of five dramatic vignettes in which the filmmakers forge powerfully intimate depictions of identity “under siege and that poignantly call out ignorance and intolerance”.
“Ask Me Nicely” is about a lesbian high-school relationship under both abnormal and normal pressures. Kate is a rebellious young high school student who meets first-love Faith, a fellow student. When they are separated by school authorities, Kate impulsively has a sexual encounter with a boy in her neighborhood. Two weeks later, Kate and Faith have an awkward reunion.
“Run” depicts the perennial danger in Kenya of being perceived as gay and pushes the main character to decide whether or not he’ll keep running. After negotiating a business deal, Patrick stumbles upon a local gay bar with his homophobic best friend, Kama.
Longtime friends in “Athman” struggle with the awkward tensions that arise when one guy declares his unrequited feelings. Farm workers Ray and Athman have been close friends for years. Hurt by Athman’s flirtatious relationship with newcomer Fiona, Ray has to make a difficult choice.
“Duet” is about an interracial encounter in a UK hotel room, is the only story set outside Kenya’s borders. Jeff is waiting in a hotel room far away from home. He has been saving for months to fulfill his ultimate fantasy of having sex with a white guy. Finally, there is a knock at the door.
“Each Night I Dream” looks at a lesbian couple who opt to finesse their cohabitation by passing as sisters. When local legislators threaten to enforce anti-gay laws, mobs gather to evict people suspected of being homosexuals. As tension in their neighborhood increases, Liz visualizes dramatic escape plans for herself and partner Achi. returns to the club for a night out, hoping no one will find out
The Film Classification Board of Kenya restricted the exhibition of the film for “promoting homosexuality, which is contrary to our national norms and values.” We see here what it means and what it takes to be part of the LGBT community in Kenya. We see the struggles that come to those who choose to embrace their sexuality in a notoriously homophobic environment. Through this film, they are given a chance and a way to construct stories of love, pain and rejection and also of hope and strength.
This is an important story to tell. The filmmakers and the actors put themselves in very real jeopardy to make this film and come out about their sexuality and this adds to the significance of what we see. “It is not only a wonderful piece of art, but a stand of defiance and a mode of protest”.