Transporting us to a place where homosexuality is considered one of the worst crimes a human being can commit, Born This Way immerses us in the struggles of Cameroon’s underground LGBT community.
Directed and produced by Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann, Born This Way is a documentary about the sometimes literal trials many homosexuals have to go through in Cameroon, where it’s considered a crime by law for anyone to sexually engage with a person of the same gender. Indeed, the documentary shows us that to even ‘look’ gay (in manner of dress or behaviour) is enough to be imprisoned for up to five years.
These discriminatory laws reflect the positions of a society where many consider homosexuality a misguidance, a product of religionless upbringing, or a case of demonic possession.
The documentary follows the lives of multiple queer Cameroonians, paying particular attention to Gertrude and Cédric, two youths coming to terms with not only who they are, but where they are as well.
Cédric talks about Lady Gaga and mentions his love and admiration for her, finding solace in such songs as “Born This Way.” He gets through the day confident in how personally acceptable it is for him to be different, how each and every one of us should embrace these differences, and how they would help make the world a better place. Yet even his optimism is diminished when the focus shifts to the realities of Cameroonian discrimination.
“You can’t be out in Cameroon. Eventually the law will get you,” he says at one point.
Cédric’s story is one of survival, illustrating how difficult it can be for a homosexual to live where there is a constant fear of attack or imprisonment, simply because you are different.
Experiencing similar anxieties, Gertrude, who is deeply religious, takes us along on her personal journey in which she reveals her sexual orientation to a Catholic nun who had raised her since childhood, and anticipates a condemnatory reaction.
Not all is bleak however, thanks to local human rights organizations and the tenacious Alice Nkom, a renowned Cameroonian lawyer who has dedicated her life to fight for gay rights, and continues to take a stand for equality.
“You know, I’m just like a mother. When you have two kids that are different, one of them is vulnerable, you have to take care, you have to love him, you have to help him. And this is what I’m doing,” Nkom says.
Concealing cameras and flouting the law themselves, the filmmakers manage to capture the realities of gay life in Cameroonian society. The personal testimonies presented throughout the film are both extraordinarily heartbreaking and remarkably enlightening, giving insight to not only how Cameroon’s LGBT community is coping with the prejudice, but by showing the viewpoints and convictions of those against it, all the while giving the documentary much warmth as it still manages to include tender conversations between couples, filmed amidst candlelight.
Born This Way premieres in Quebec as part of Cinema Politica at 7 p.m on Oct. 21, D.B. Clarke Theatre – 1455 de Maisonneuve W. The event is in collaboration with Festival de Films Massimadi Montréal.