“No matter where you come from, no matter how you are brought up, no matter what you do in life, you have to believe in who you are and do whatever you want to do.” – Samuel Asilikwa on sexuality in the Bohemia Euphoria exclusive.
Peter Murimi’s feature documentary debut I Am Samuel paints an intimate portrait of Samuel Asilikwa, a gay Kenyan man who because of the outing of his sexuality is subjected to a world of change and challenges. Sam, as he is lovingly referred to by his friends, and his boyfriend Alex show their audience what it means to stay true to one’s self despite the odds, as they strive for love, joy and acceptance in a deeply homophobic society. No doubt a crippling legacy of colonialism, homosexuality remains illegal in Kenya and a taboo in Samuel’s family home.
I Am Samuel premiered in the UK on Bohemia Euphoria in partnership with We Are Parable on June 3rd and was immediately followed by a live interview and Q&A between guest host Emmanuelle Andrews and the film’s leading subject Samuel, who spoke publicly about the film for the first time alongside the film’s director Peter Murimi and producer Toni Kamau.
Samuel revealed that the initial plan for the film was to document the lives of seven gay men but that the other six changed their mind about playing a big part in the project because “they fear[ed]” “the outcome of the film.” Nonetheless, they appear in I Am Samuel; the group of friends that Samuel and Alex hung out with constantly. “I chose… to show the world that we have gay people in Africa. Not only rich gay people… When you’re gay and you’re rich you get security. Most people don’t believe you can be poor, coming from a rural [area], living in slums and be gay.” He went on to express his satisfaction with the fact that he was able to represent people from these marginalised communities.
Toni on the other hand, reflected on how what was meant to be a one year of documentary making in 2013 turned into a journey that took over seven years, and how an ecosystem of allies helped the process along. Through the film, we gain insight into what Samuel’s life looked like back then from his relationship with his family, friends, and Alex; to those with his coworkers and his netball community. Samuel has since relocated to Europe, and although this factor has contributed to him being able and comfortable enough to openly discuss the film without worrying about his safety, there have also been some drawbacks to the move. “I’m starting a new life. I’m starting from zero because I’m in a new country where I don’t have anyone to speak to. I don’t have any family members… I don’t have friends. It’s like I’m a newborn baby. I have to start from zero to learn everything; traditions, culture… Sometimes I feel bad but it’s okay because of my security.”
Peter also thinks aloud, back to his twenties, when discussions about or related to queerness were “impossible”, acknowledging how far the movement has come. Superimposed at the end of film is the message “this film is dedicated to queer Africans. May you all live in love and truth with your families.” This is what we at Bohemia Euphoria hope for as well.