I Am Samuel @ Pan African Film Festival

A queer Kenyan film directed by Peter Murimi. In Kenya being gay is dangerous. If you are thought to be gay you risk violence, rejection from family and jail. As a result most keep hidden the fact that they belong to the LGBTQ community. Murimi’s documentary has as it subject one such member in Samuel.

Samuel grew up in a rural area of Kenya. He family is your typical one with them surviving on the farming they do. His father is a preacher at the local church. A rather conservative man who believes that the man is the boss of the family with his word to be obeyed by the other members. He questions why his son is not married. Samuel cannot be truthful as he risks being rejected by his family, so he moves to the big city of Nairobi.

There he has found a job as a construction worker. It is hard work but earns him money. More importantly, in the city he has found, via the internet, a group of men like himself. A LGBTQ community. Even further, Samuel has found love with Alex.

Even though Samuel and Alex live in a big city they still face danger due to being gay. They still remain largely in the closet unless with their friends. Violence and arrest still hangs over their heads. It is almost as if these men live with multiple identities – their true selves and those they show in public.

Samuel is at the point where he thinks about revealing his true self to his family. It is a big risk. He risks their rejection. Samuel, who fathered a daughter when he was younger due to the pressure to find a wife, even worries about his young daugher rejecting him when she discovers he is gay. Or even worse as some families enact violence on their own kin who come out as gay.

We know his worries are well founded as his boyfriend Alex is already estranged from his father as he was outed as gay by a relative. Still Samuel decides to bring Alex home as his “friend”.

The documentary, 68 minutes long, was filmed in verite style over the course of five years. Throughout it maintains a tone of being honest and even raw emotionally at times. You see the price exacted on those who are forced to hide who they are from those closest to them.

This honesty is only obtained because of the trust, which is very apparent, that director Murimi has earned from his subject. Samuel, Alex and even their friends are quite open in front of the camera. Plus Murimi has obviously gained the trust of Samuel’s family as well. They allow him into the house and even allow the camera to keep filming when they receive some shocking news.

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