Ugandan Court Dismisses Case against British Producer of Play Featuring Gay Character

By Melanie Nathan, January 02, 2013, 2:00 AM PST

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 1.47.07 AMDavid Cecil the British play producer appeared in court today charged with ‘‘disobeying lawful orders’’ from the Uganda Media Council, which says he staged ‘‘The River and the Mountain’’ in Uganda’s capital last year despite orders to the contrary. All charges against the producer were dismissed. Cecil celebrated his birthday today and it is indeed a happy birthday for David Cecil.

The case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. It was also clear that witnesses were reluctant to testify against the producer.

The River and the Mountain was written by Beau Hopkins, produced by David Cecil and directed by the BBC award winning Angella Emurwon. Cecil recently produced and staged this play, Uganda’s first theatrical production to feature a gay protagonist.    Although the play did not depict a gay rights-based message it embeds a gay (Kuchu) hero within a wider drama about corruption, religion and politics. Cecil told me in a recent interview that the script went through an approval process by the National Theatre of Uganda and that at one point he thought it had been approved.

If the Uganda media council had had its way, The River and the Mountain would not have been performed in Uganda at all, but it played to sold out audiences.  There seemed to be some confusion.  Cecil told me in a month ago in an  interview that the play had at first been approved for viewing.   It is  a play about sexuality, politics and religion;  so they wanted to ban it after it had been shown in small theaters eight times.

The themes are desperation, betrayal, manipulation, self-betrayal, intolerance and the use of Christianity to spread hate instead of compassion.The play asks the provocative question – ” Can’t you be straight for me? ” by the journalist character,  Samson.  It is widely assumed that sexuality can be turned on and off like a switch.  This is one question which points to the  basic truths about homosexuality. The truth that religious proponents of the Bill and politicians seeking its passage would rather silence. Homosexuality cannot be changed.  Any form of education which dispels popular myth and lies which are fueling the Anti-homosexuality bill would clearly be a target.

In my discussion with Cecil I warned him about retaliation for this play influenced by increasingly frustrated Member of Parliament, David Bahati and  Minister of Ethics Simon Lokodo, who are desperate to see passage of the  Anti-homosexuality Bill.  Cecil did not seem to think he would be arrested for producing the play.   He wanted to believe that Ugandan society was indeed headed toward tolerance, notwithstanding political forces that were trying still to pass the languishing “Kill the Gays Bill” that would criminalize the so called “promotion of homosexuality.”

He noted the possible positive attributes of Ugandan society pertaining to a climate that could possibly become tolerant, including the popularity of the play and the recent gay pride parade.

While “acts against nature” are illegal in Uganda with its wide definition seeming to include homosexuality, the new Bill, if passed, will subject any so called “promoter” of homosexuality to arrest.  While such has yet to pass, Cecil’s  arrest may have been ordered under other laws yet because of this principal. However there would be no real basis at this time under the law to charge someone with “promoting” homosexuality.

While hoping his play could bring some understanding in Uganda, the fact that none of the cast and crew are themselves gay which Cecil touts as significant: “what has happened to the unquestionable consensus touted by the Anti-Gay politicians?” Cecil asks. Yet, it is apparently now clear that these politicians called for the arrest to silence David Cecil.

In a milieu of scape-goating, one can only wonder if it the gay subplot in the play was the ‘true offender ‘or if it is an excuse by Ugandan authorities to retaliate for all the questions raised by the play including that of corruption and poverty.

Cecil was excited when he called me from Kampala, mere days after the play was first staged.   I tried to warn him, without tempering his exuberance. The play had been a huge success and that was something Ugandan authorities would probably not tolerate.

He noted  “the fact that club-owners, shop-owners, theatres, the press, artists, businessmen, local authorities and even some pastors are opening up to the idea of a gay community in Uganda shows just how wrong the hate-mongers were, ”  he told me in the interview. But that is precisely what Ugandan authorities fear.  However since the play was staged it would seem that the anti-gay fervor in Uganda has all but decreased.

The dismissal of the charges indicate that the judiciary has maintained it independence from politics and this gives hope for other cases currently pending the Ugandan Courts where gays are suing the Minister of ethics for wrongful arrest under laws that do not exist and where charges can be dropped and cases dismissed if there is not enough evidence or if the parties have been incorrectly charged.


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