I am Samuel Review

The criminalisation of same-sex relationships in Africa is commonplace. In 2013, 38 African countries made homosexuality a crime under the law. Opposition to people of different sexual orientation has become more and more visible, with Kenya being one of those countries where homosexuality is criminalised and socially unacceptable; if convicted, a person could face up to 14 years in prison. 

Photo © I am Samuel 

A poignant documentary filmed over five years, I am Samuel is an intimate portrait of a young gay man called Samuel and his partner Alex. Peter Murimi, the film’s director, presents the couple’s struggle to keep their relationship a secret in a very transparent way, and also depicts the men’s ‘battle’ to navigate rejection, violence and complicated family relationships. According to Kenyan society, homosexuality is a disease of the North, and the rhetoric that homosexuality is a fad comes back frequently. With that in mind, and in a country where love could land you a prison sentence, or worse – dead on the streets – Samuel and Alex can only find comfort and strength in a close-knit queer community in Nairobi.

Photo © I am Samuel 

Samuel’s struggle between staying honest with himself and pretending to be straight while being with his parents has a toll on his mental health. And, as he was raised in a rural countryside, where tradition represents a critical piece of Kenyan culture, coming out as homosexual is out of the question. He is close with his mother, but the father-son relationship is slightly more complex. Samuel’s father, who is a local pastor, doesn’t understand why his son hasn’t married yet. 

While it is hard to comprehend the couple’s struggle, one of the joys of the film is watching Samuel and Alex’s love thriving. Moreover, through individual opinions on how the life of a gay man looks like in Kenya, we also learn more about the LGBTQ community’s painful history. I am Samuel is an unexpectedly moving documentary which also shows the couple’s ‘journey’ between their co-existing worlds, hoping to win acceptance in both. 

Photo © I am Samuel 

Murimi is unafraid to show that homophobia in Kenya is growing in strength and is a major threat to human rights, in the light of which we should all be equal. I am Samuel is also a ‘call’ for the Kenyan government to immediately accept that it is their duty to protect citizens of different sexual orientation, and not to support discriminatory actions and condemn their preferences. 

I am Samuel is an insightful and essential cinéma vérité that captures the subject of LGBTQ rights well, and Samuel’s persona offers a touching sense of what it means to be a gay man in a heavily religious and traditional country. The film also provides a powerful and moving perspective on other men who only wish for their lives to be accepted by others. After watching the film, a couple of questions come up in one’s mind: will there ever be a possibility for LGBTQ people to live in peace in Kenya, and Africa for that matter? Will love prevail? Sadly, there is no easy answer to that.

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Written by Maggie Gogler

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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