“Stories of Our Lives” shares the unheard stories of being queer in Kenya

AE: Even for you, there must be some pain in the fact that your movie–which is all about Kenyans–can’t be shown in your homeland. What are your feelings about that?

JC: Well, it’s definitely very frustrating because just before we left for Toronto we showed the film to the cast and some of the people who supported us in the making of the film. And it was such an emotional screening–in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Kenyan audience reacting like that to a film. And so we really were excited to come back and show the film, because when we made this film we were making it primarily for the queer community, because we felt like they had never seen themselves in a way that’s respectful or truthful. And so when we were denied that chance, that’s kind of disappointing.


AE: What is the situation like for LGBTQ people in Kenya?

JC: The experience is vastly different depending on exactly where you live and kind of where you are in all these social classes. There’s all these things that play into the situation.

There are people who are on the frontline of a particular kind of violence against queer people, in terms of evictions, and harassment, and being arrested by police. And kind of being in that grey space where you’re not really being prosecuted for anything, but you’re under temporary arrest. But then there’s also a whole other bunch of people who are openly gay and they never get to be on that particular frontline, just because of the way Kenya works. So it’s very different for everyone.


AE: Can you speak, to the best of your knowledge, about the situation of lesbian and bisexual women in Kenya?

JC: Women are also on another kind of frontline just because of being women. And so there’s another type of violence that’s particular to the lesbian and bisexual women community. Sexual violence is a reality for them in a way that it’s not for the guys. It’s much harder to be a black lesbian in Africa than to be a black gay man.

And then also in some other ways it’s also different because there’s this weird kind of straight male permissibility of lesbians, which is like this strange sexualized way of looking at lesbians. And so in some ways it’s also a little easier to be a lesbian or bisexual woman in Kenya because of that weird permissibility that’s kind of gross.


AE: What did you hope to accomplish with this movie, and do you believe you have accomplished it?

JC: For us this project was about presenting queer people as people. As people who have feelings, as people who fall in love, make mistakes and learn, and all these things. I guess some people would say that it’s a “normalizing” that we are trying to do. And it’s precisely that reason that the film was restricted. The Classification Board says that the film promotes homosexuality, which is contrary to the national norms and values. I guess that idea that queer people are just people is still a very political thing to say here.

Whether we’ve achieved it? In some ways the fact that the film exists, whether or not people have seen it, was still quite a movement because there’s nothing that’s been done like that here. And the fact that a group of Kenyans could make a film about queer people that then is received warmly by audiences is still a very political thing. So in a way we have raised a visibility of queerness that’s not ashamed.


AE: Are you still fighting for the opportunity to show the film in Kenya? Are you hopeful?

JC: We’ve always described the film as being in exile. After some time, the exiles end up coming home.

Stories of Our Lives is screening at Frameline in San Francisco on June 22 and 27. Check out the movie’s Facebook page to find out when it’ll be playing at a film festival near you

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