Slipping well behind the likes of Russia and Uganda in the high rotation stakes of the 24-hour news cycle, Central African state, Cameroon, quietly arrests more gay and lesbian citizens than any other country in the world.
On the sly, American filmmakers, Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann travelled around Cameroon to film a snapshot of gay and lesbian life in that country. Their film, Born This Way, isn’t a necessarily a call to action. It is the opening of a global closet door. It is an expression of identity and humanity. As the filmmakers note, relatively simple questions guided their process. They simply asked, “Who are you? What are your lives? What does it mean to be gay right now in this part of Africa?”
The people they ask this of range from the brave, Steave Nemande who runs the Alternatives Cameroun LGBT centre, to the persecuted, two young women who have been outed as being in a same-sex relationship and now stand trial in their small village. Their answers will be soberingly recognisable to LGBTQ people the world over, it is just that the consequences are far more dire.
Born This Way shares these fears and the powerful stories of those who are seeking change from within. Some, like Nemande, whose centre provides a haven and a community for LGBTQ people, is persecuted himself. Others, like lawyer and human rights activist, Alice Nkom, fights for justice with a fierce sense of moral obligation and the firing belief that her country is on the cusp of their defining “Rosa Parks” moment. The common thread throughout is that these men and women are fighting for a better life and they want to stay in the country they love to achieve it.
More than anything else, Born This Way is a much-needed slice of perspective for those of us fighting for LGBTQ rights in richer, whiter, more privileged, more secular societies. The right to marry is one thing, the right to live in freedom, or to live at all, is a whole other.
Born This Way won’t spark a revolution. It won’t trigger any sort of Western intervention. Even if it were to, that intervention would be inevitably misguided. What Kadlec and Tullman’s film does do is contextualise the struggle in Cameroon, gives it personality, hopes and very real fear. If the film does bring about change, it will do so through education. There are already signs of this happening, with the country’s president, Paul Biya signalling he’s softening on the issue.
It is not much but it is a glimmer of hope. It’s a glimmer that the likes of Nemande and Nkom may even be able to fan into a fire. We can help them by broadening our activism a little. Hunt it out.
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