The term The Dark Continent is one that isn’t used much anymore to describe Africa, but it works well when considering the experiences of LGBT folks who are forced to live in the shadows because of their nation’s views and laws concerning homosexuality. First time documentary filmmakers Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann explore queer life in Cameroon where arrest for something as simple as fashion-forward garb, let alone an outright public accusation by neighbors, leads to a five-year prison sentence and heft fine. If it weren’t for the country’s sole LGBT organization, Alternatives Cameroon, located in Douala, and a courageous human rights lawyer named Alice Nkom, folks would have nowhere to turn. They come together in this safe haven that serves as an educational facility, an activist organization, and a support group. These people live in fear of being exposed, ostracized, imprisoned, and even murdered every day of their lives.
The documentary focuses on a number of folks to illustrate the struggle for acceptance in a country where many citizens blend Catholicism and witchcraft, both of which are used to deny the rights of LGBT folks. Gertrude was raised by the good sisters of a convent in her small town before heading to the big city and finding both her sense of purpose and her community at Alternatives Cameroon. She is a brave and eloquent young woman, which comes in handy when she travels back home to come out to her Mother Superior mentor. Cedric, Gertrude’s co-worker at the center, will never come out to his mother, but is outed and threatened by thugs in his neighborhood who force him to leave his home. They along with Nkom come to the aid of a lesbian couple in a nearby small village who were outed and arrested. They were released by a judge when the court proceedings dissolved into chaos. The case came to the attention of the center and rather than remaining silent and under-the-radar the staff decides to come to their aid. The women are brought to Doula and enter the sanctuary Alternatives Cameroon provides so many.
With stunning and surprising imagery, including intimate candle-lit conversations, heart-wrenching confessions from victims of homophobic violence, and dangerous journeys through dark alleys, Kadlec and Tullmann exhibit guerilla filmmaking at its most poignant and its most perilous. The filmmakers placed themselves on the frontlines with the foot soldiers who are fighting for a cause they truly believe in. The war metaphor is apt because this struggle has included many casualties. The struggle is right there on film for the world to bare witness. Few of the people in the film use their last names in the film’s credits and many faces are blurred throughout the film, which illustrates the consequences every LGBT person in Cameroon faces on a daily basis and will continue to face until laws and attitudes can be changed.
“Born This Way” is both realistic and optimistic in its vivid representation of queer life in a homophobic nation, a nation that is shown in all its contradictory splendor. Colorful and lasting images create the perfect sense of place and capture both big city life, rich with colorful markets, plagued by muddy streets, and energized by dangerous overhead tangles of electrical wires, and village life, where citizens live their serene lives surrounded by lush jungles. Bold citizens are coming out as queer and standing up for their civil rights, demanding to be treated with the same dignity allowed their fellow citizens. It would be easier to move to more accepting environs, but people like Gertrude and Cedric have chosen to stay and fight. This documentary is of the ilk that strives to bring about social change by taking an unflinching peek into a community shut of from its country in a place that