Saturday, 18 October 2014

God Loves Uganda

Here is a film to make you angry and make you cringe – and both for two very different reasons. 

The documentary is about the American evangelical church’s influence on Ugandan attitudes and political responses toward homosexuality. Regardless of what most any person’s attitudes (or theological responses) toward homosexuality are, one might expect that any decent person would not support a life sentence or death sentence (funny how those sound like opposites) for homosexual acts. 

This film demonstrates that this is not the case. Caught up in religious fervour and intoxicated by the possibilities of a country that can be swayed even more easily than the US by the religious right – evangelical leaders are shown as inspiring and strongly supporting a most immoral law (though the death sentence was eventually dropped). I suppose one shouldn’t be too surprised. 

However, another cringe-worthy aspect of the film is the filmmakers’ deception. Having clearly won the trust of a young adult mission team, the camera crew was welcomed along for the ride and recorded the sincere hopes and attempts of well-meaning young people. Though they are largely innocent of the actions of the older leaders, they end up being framed as deluded and bad people. I felt very sorry for them and the trust that they had had betrayed. Twice – because their trust has also betrayed by the older religious leaders whose colonizing distortions of Christianity may have inoculated them against the actual teachings of Jesus. The film effectively exposes the dark side of the evangelical movement, but I don't believe in the ends justifying the means (of deceitful filmmaking). 

It’s a good film (probably some people really need to see it) – but it leaves one feeling defiled in two very different ways. As a result, I just can’t give it a rating.


  1. Can't believe the coincidence; I'm showing this film at Sam's Place Film Night tomorrow. Haven't seen it yet and now I wish I hadn't just accepted all the positive reviews I read before deciding on showing the film. Not one of the twenty reviews I read mentioned the deception of the filmmakers. Thanks for the heads-up. I'll respond with my thoughts on Tuesday.

  2. All in all, I thought it was a very well-made documentary. While your point about the young people is well-taken, I wasn't bothered by it the same way you were because I thought those young people came off quite well. Yes, the filmmaker seemed to want to put them into the same camp as those evangelicals (Ssempa and co.) who were responsible for the anti-gay fervour but they themselves were not shown ever making an issue of it. Even the International House of Prayer as a whole came off better than Ssempa and other Ugandan leaders. So, to me, the film felt like it was using IHOP and the young missionaries to create a feature-length documentary when it could have stuck with Lively, Ssempa and the two progressive African church leaders. In other words, the documentary was weakened by including the story of the young missionaries, though I found the whole thing fascinating. A solid ***.

  3. I forgot to mention two other complaints I had about the film: 1) a lack of contextual overview describing the history of Ugandan attitudes toward homosexuality; 2) a breakdown of Ugandan Christian attitudes toward the anti-gay legislation.