Roger Ross Williams, an Academy Award-winning documentary director and producer, is a product of an African-American home heavily populated by pastors. But as a gay man in a conservative situation, he has been estranged from his family and from his tradition. His latest movie, God Loves Uganda, reflects his deep ambivalence, grief, fear, and anger regarding the intertwined matters of faith, sexuality, identity, power, love, and respect.
God Loves Uganda has a distinguished pedigree, from Ford Foundation funding to Sundance mentoring to showings at film festivals, schools, churches, and other venues around the world. Last weekend, Williams and his film came to Vancouver, and I was asked to respond publicly at the showing in dialogue with him. I concluded that there is less here than meets the eye, even as what remains is plenty bad enough.
A documentary is supposed to do two things: show us something and, usually, prompt a response. God Loves Uganda does depict a horrifying development in that country: a bill that has come before the Ugandan Parliament (and, at the time of this writing, is still there) that seriously threatens the welfare of homosexuals. Indeed, this bill originally called for life imprisonment for anyone engaging in homosexual intercourse and for the death penalty for repeat offenders. The penalties have since been reduced, but the harshness of the bill remains and it might yet become law.
Moreover, God Loves Uganda correctly shows that the antihomosexual agenda there has been driven, in part, by some American evangelicals, notably Scott Lively, a very minor figure at home in the United States, and Lou Engle, one of the founders of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) and known to many more as ...1
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