In God Loves Uganda documentarian Roger Ross Williams casts a critical eye on the presence and growing influence of evangelical Christianity on the African continent. The film focuses on Uganda in particular, where local religious leaders fueled by Kansas’s International House of Prayer tirelessly work towards promoting legislation that could threaten the lives of LGBT Ugandans.
The film clearly has a message, but it doesn’t do much in the way of editorializing. With no traps or tricks, the House of Prayer members and their Ugandan counterparts freely and righteously share their hateful views about homosexuality and sexuality in general – in a country hit hard by HIV, the group also promotes abstinence as the main prevention of STDs (a stance the Ugandan government has also taken), and calls for the overall ban of condoms.
As the documentary shifts between Kampala and Kansas City, it reveals the far more complex, far more disturbing relationship between the House of Prayer and Ugandan church leaders. While they preach about morality, charity, and God, beneath the surface Williams teases out how the white evangelicals fund the glamorous lifestyles and mega-churches of Ugandan pastors, who in turn help to gain the Kansas-based organization the trust and respect of local parishioners, who then rally, rant, and rave against homosexuality in the name of the Bible.
The voices of detractors are also heard, including a handful of religious leaders who have spoken out against the anti-gay movement in the country. But perhaps the most powerful and most moving moments in the film are those that allow gay and lesbian Ugandans to share their stories, capturing the fear and uncertainty of living in a country that may one day soon execute them for who they are.
God Loves Uganda is a fascinating but emotionally overwhelming film. Exploring the intersection between race, class, and religion, it does well in tackling the little-discussed issue of LGBT rights in Africa. It’s impossible not to view the situation Williams displays through the prism of racism and new colonialism. It’s an unsettling sort of deja vu: watching these white missionaries arrive on African shores, bearing a warped version of Christianity, both saviors and oppressors.
Variance Films opens God Loves Uganda theatrically today, October 11, 2014, starting in New York City, followed by an expansion to theaters across the US and Canada throughout the fall and into early 2014.
Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.