Rad­i­cal acts of love

CityPress - - T# - Charl.blignaut@city­press.co.za The Pearl of Africa

Di­rec­tor: Jonny von Wall­ström “I want to be able to wear a bikini and be in the sun­shine. I want in­ner val­i­da­tion,” says Cleopa­tra Kam­bugu. She is on a train leav­ing Uganda af­ter her photo ap­peared on the front page of a per­ni­cious Kam­pala tabloid called Red Pep­per, with the head­line How We Be­came Ho­mos. This in the same week that the Uganda Anti-Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity Act of 2014 was passed, with clauses al­low­ing for the death penalty.

She is flee­ing to Kenya with her part­ner, Nel­son Ka­saija, and from there we will fol­low the cou­ple to Thai­land for her sex re­as­sign­ment surgery, in part thanks to the suc­cess of Von Wall­ström’s web series, The Pearl of Africa , and a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign to pay for the pro­ce­dure.

Hers – and Nel­son’s – is a hugely brave story. To live openly as a trans woman in a time of ex­e­cu­tions is rad­i­cal. Nel­son’s al­liance and sup­port are rad­i­cal. But what the film – beau­ti­fully shot with plenty of breath­ing space – shows is that self-love is the most rad­i­cal act of them all.

From join­ing a de­fi­ant queer vigil on the night the act is passed to en­dur­ing dis­lo­ca­tion from her fam­ily and the phys­i­cal pain of the surgery, Cleo is the trans story made per­sonal. The love be­tween her and Nel­son shows the hu­man­ity be­hind the is­sues.

But – there’s al­ways a but when a white westerner is in charge of a nu­anced African story – one feels at times that Cleo is a spec­i­men be­ing stud­ied be­cause the di­rec­tor has not rooted the story in Ugan­dan so­ci­ety – save for fa­nat­i­cal ho­mo­pho­bic rants on TV. Is­sues be­come sim­pli­fied that way. The fram­ing of Nel­son has dodgy mo­ments when it feels he is be­ing voyeuris­ti­cally in­truded on. And there are other mo­ments when Von Wall­ström in­trudes – like his se­lec­tion of Swedish singers for the score of an African story.

But he has made a bril­liant film on a shoe­string bud­get and through it Cleopa­tra has raised her pow­er­ful voice.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

TRAN­SI­TIONS The fear­less Cleopa­tra Kam­bugu AVANTIKA SEETH

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.