I AM SAMUEL is a brave and moving documentary about one young man's struggle to be accepted as an out homosexual in contemporary Kenya. It's a country I know well and it is indeed a strange mixture of the prudishness and legal oppression of the British Victorian colonial system overlaid with the feverish condemnation of an intense evangelical Christian contemporary religious culture. As a result, homosexuality might not be illegal, but gay sex, and to be gay is to be punished by brutal beatings and shunning. Over a period of years following this brave family we see Samuel struggling to explain his love for his boyfriend Alex to his family, who would rather live in denial. One of Samuel's friends is beaten up just for being associated with him. People whisper about the true nature of Samuel's friendship with Alex. Along the way we see the community of gay friends that he has had to take shelter in, and hear their own experiences of having to come out and face family and community shunning. The wonderful thing is that by the time we get to the end of this film, Alex' name is added to family prayers and Samuel's father has come to an uneasy acceptance. But we are painfully aware that this is the exception to the rule, and of the difficult path that Samuel and Alex and now Samuel's whole family, will face.
To me, this is the best of what documentaries can do: they take you into a world you do not know and make you empathise with a situation that is not your own. At the same time, my showing an extreme situation, they make you reflect on the difficulties that might be faced by your gay friends in your own, supposedly liberal, society. Given the situation in parts of the USA today, how different would it really be to Samuel's predicament?
I AM SAMUEL played HotDocs 2020 and is currently playing the BFI London Film Festival. It has a running time of 70 minutes.