Hot Docs 2012: Call Me Kuchu

This is David Kato. He was bludgeoned to death with a hammer last year, murdered because he was gay. He had been a high profile leader in the Ugandan LGBT community, publicly standing up for his civil rights in a country where homosexuality is not only illegal, but openly and violently opposed by the government and the church. He was also, as Call Me Kuchu shows, an incredibly warm and friendly person, lending his support to others even as he was being demonized and vilified by the powerful political and religious leaders who wanted him dead.

The documentary follows him in the lead-up to his death, as the vile homophobic rhetoric in Uganda seems to be reaching a fever pitch. Kato and others at the gay rights group he co-founded have launched a lawsuit against the bizarrely-named Rolling Stone newspaper, which has been publishing photos of gay people, outing them against their will, calling for them to be hanged, absurdly accusing them of ties to al-Qaeda and Joseph Kony. Kato is also helping to lead the fight against a new bill being debated in the Ugandan parliament — it would introduce the death penalty for homosexuals and imprisonment for anyone who doesn't turn them in within 24 hours. And as Kato and his group are meeting with the United Nations, helping to galvanize international opposition to the bill, American Evangelical preachers are travelling to Uganda, lending financial support to the bill's supporters and giving speeches to homophobic crowds in a nation that has never done away with the anti-sodomy laws inherited from Britain's colonial rule.

Even when you know how his story ends, Kato's death in the film comes as a physical shock. It's devastating. And so is his chaotic funeral, where even the preacher turns on his friends and family, condemning them all to burn in hell. Plenty of people in the audience at last night's screening watched the somewhat hopeful and inspiring scenes that follow — of the activists who survive him continuing their struggle, making modest strides, winning their battle against the bill (at least for now) — through blurry, tear-filled eyes. A day later, I still feel sick.

In a festival filled with incredibly important, emotionally exhausting, deeply upsetting documentaries, Call Me Kuchu stands out. It is an immensely powerful film about a truly heroic man.

- Adam Bunch

Call Me Kuchu plays again on Sat. May 5 at 9pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Tickets 'n' stuff here.

Find all of our coverage of Hot Docs 2012 here. 

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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