Berlinale – Panorama 2013
DIRECTOR: Shaun Kadlec, Deb Tullmann
In a country where being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is a crime, there are still people who dare to be themselves and put their freedom on the line in order to help others in the community. The documentary, the feature-length debut of directors Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann, premiered at the Berlinale and introduced us to the lives of homosexuals living in Cameroon. The film is self-produced and is shot guerrilla style.
Homosexuality is punishable with a prison sentence of up to five years in Cameroon. Yet the protagonists in the film show their faces and openly tell their stories. Two of the main characters, Gertrude and Cedric, make clear the perils with which they are confronted on a daily basis. In a scene underset merely by candlelight, Gertrude tells a story of her brutal gang rape which left one of her friends dead. Gertrude also experiences a major highlight, in that she comes out to her former Mother Superior who accepts her nonetheless. Her relief is genuine and heartfelt. Cedric is attacked and threatened one night due to his sexuality. While it was too dark for him to identify the perpetrators, he knew to take the threat seriously. However, at the end of the movie he safely moves to a different part of town.
Viewers also gain insight into the judicial system by way of Alice Nkom, a highly reputable attorney and activist. She takes on case after case of people accused of being homosexuals. One case is followed closely during taping of two women who are accused of being lesbians and coerced into making a confession. Ms. Nkom assumes her role and has the women released, although they are eventually found guilty. However, the women have been relocated and can live freely while their case awaits the court of appeals. Ms. Nkom hopes to use the opportunity to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
In general, the film explores the different aspects of homosexual lifestyle in Cameroon, or at least in the capital city, without being too intrusive. Many of the protagonists work in the community center, masked as an HIV/AIDS prevention center, which also works to support people incarcerated due to their sexuality as well as to heighten the well-being and offer a safe haven for homosexuals living in the city. The center is losing some of its funding, and the directors have been asked to offer information on how donations can be made to the center. Also, some audience members asked where the homophobic mentality derives. It might seem easy to blame it on Christian colonialism, but the mention of witchcraft came up often in connection with homosexuality in the movie. It is safe to say that the homophobic mentality is at least as complex in Cameroon as it is in other parts of the world.
Born This Way is a simple film taking on a big issue. We thank the directors for their insights and their tenacity in making the film happen.
This review was originally published in Graham ‘N Graham.