By Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, a Friend of Film Africa
At the end of Stories of Our Lives, Binyavanga Wainaina notes that the law against homosexuality justifies violence, being blackmailed, harassed by the Police, noting that he would want to live in a place that his life is not constantly monitored adding that Kenya is his country and he wants to live there, not wanting to run away. Throughout Stories of Our Lives there is a constant theme of needing to run away, needing to find a safe haven – and it is a prominent theme in most African countries where homosexuality is illegal – the need to safe.
Stories of Our Lives is undeniably a beautiful poignant film about what it means to be African and gay in Africa. Each story carefully weaves the realities that are faced by LGBTQ people who, like every one else, are trying to lead normal lives within cultures that at times doesn’t understand it wants or needs to be; by using cultures in plural I am referring to African cultures not just Kenya. The pace of the film, cinematography and editing techniques, seamlessly form with each story to create an atmosphere at times, of emptiness; these are people that are not allowed to live to their full potential, always on the run, as we see with both Run (eventually he says he stops running), and also with Athman, where Raymond leaves, even in Duet, Jeff can only fully experience his sexual desires by being in a different country.
It is interesting that whilst it is known that religion bears an important factor in how homosexuality is viewed, such as in Run, when Kama references Sodom and Gomorrah, it is also refreshing that the stories lead to the question of ‘What is African?’, which is questioned a bit more in-depth in Each Night I Dream, when she asks ‘if we’re not African what are we?’. A conversation that I’ve often had within my family circles; being gay is un-African, as if it just appeared on our shores in the past few years. My gayness is something that I have known since 11, and I grew up in the church, but the problem that Africa faces is that it mixes culture and religion together; noting that there are over 100 different cultures in Africa – so at which intersection is it un-African; in pre-colonial Africa was there a word for homosexuality? Or was it something that we were taught was wrong? If it is not African and we are born this way, then who are we? Where do we fit if our own ‘cultures’ do not accept us, because they believe they do not know us? These are questions I struggle to answer.
The most interesting story for me and the most important, was Athman’s, a straight man, who does not know how to deal with his friend’s attraction to him. When compared to the other stories in film, we are confronted with the constant need for secrecy, the need to not be seen; for instance in Run and in Ask Me Nicely, there is a reminder that we are only allowed to be openly gay in spaces that require us to hide from the outside world, or alternatively in a different country as we see in Duet. Wainaina in the film notes, ‘all of us need love’, despite our differences.