A visual history of African LGBTQ

A quick review of films showing at two festivals with a focus on gay people: The Out in Africa Festival and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

Photo: Zanele Muholi.

A coincidence? Surely not. At the same time as the Out in Africa festival in South Africa celebrates lesbian and gay film, the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival will be running. At the latter, a few films stand out that deal with the problems that African LGBTQ people face. On Saturday March 24, two South African films are screening. First, ‘Difficult Love‘ (2010) by Zanele Muholi and Peter Goldsmid, which follows the journey of celebrated photographer Muholi as she ‘navigates the politically charged environment of her native South Africa where legalized homosexuality has done little to stop the murder and ‘corrective’ rape of black lesbians.’

This film sounds fantastic, as Muholi’s photographic practice attempts to both map and archive a visual history of black lesbians in post-Apartheid South Africa, and this lends itself well to the moving image. Her photographs are stark, black and white, unrelenting and fearless portrayals of love, sex and intimacy amongst the lesbian community. In her beautiful “Being” series (2001), she lifts a veil on HIV/AIDS and lesbian relationships, showing how prevention programming is failing lesbian women, while the photographs capture women in intimate, close positions together, celebrating their form.

Her statement of intent is strong and clear, she is writing black African lesbians into a cultural and visual inventory;

In the face of all the challenges our community encounters daily, I embarked on a journey of visual activism to ensure that there is black queer visibility. It is important to mark, map and preserve our mo(ve)ments through visual histories for reference and posterity so that future generations will note that we were here.

The brilliant site African Art in London reviewed “Difficult Love” from its screening at the South London gallery in August:

The film is not wholly depressing… there are flashes of determination and even humor, and what really comes across is the tenderness between couples who find love and laughter together even in seemingly impossible circumstances. It’s tough viewing, but I can’t recommend Difficult Love highly enough …

You can watch the film here, but you’ll have to register to IMDB first.

Second in this billing is ‘Waited For‘ (2011) by Nerina Penzhorn, a documentary exploring the prejudices toward multi-racial lesbian families in South Africa. The complex issue of white lesbian couples adopting black children is approached with a true tenderness. Here’s a trailer:

Other films to see: the classic “A Place of Rage” (1991) by Pratibha Parmar, featuring the formidable women fighting for African America rights, women’s rights, and lesbian and gay rights. Interviews with Angela Davis, June Jordan and Alice Walker are still exciting and illuminating records of the lengths black women in America went to change their societies. You can watch a part of the film here (the Prince ‘Sign of the times’ soundtrack is absolutely perfect). Jewelle Gomez writes of “A Place of Rage that, “… this lyrical film begins the much needed exploration of the Afro-American women who sustained and inspired the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s. By shining an intimate light on some of our best known artists / activists Parmar eloquently reveals the power and poetry of the hidden faces. Her film is a visual embrace of who black women really are.”

Further Reading

Take it to the house

On this month’s AIAC Radio, Boima celebrates all things basketball, looking at its historical relationships with music and race, then focusing on Africa’s biggest names in the sport.

El maestro siempre

Maky Madiba Sylla is a militant filmmaker excavating iconic Africans whose legacies he believes need to be known widely—like the singer Laba Sosseh.

Madiba and Mali

There is a remarkable connection between Mali and South Africa, dating back to the liberation struggle, and actively encouraged by the author’s work.

A devil’s deal

Rwanda’s proposed refugee deal with Britain is another strike against President Paul Kagame’s claim that he is an authentic and fearless pan-Africanist who advocates for the less fortunate.

Red and Black

Yunxiang Gao’s new book takes a fresh look at connected lives of African American and Chinese leftist activists, artists and intellectuals after World War II.

The Dar es Salaam years

In the early 1970s, Walter Rodney, expelled from Jamaica, took a post in Tanzania. In Leo Zeilig’s new book, he captures those exciting, but also difficult years and how it formed Rodney.

Rushing to boycott

The cultural boycott of Russia turns to the flawed precedent of apartheid South Africa for inspiration, while ignoring the much more carefully considered boycott of official Israeli culture by the BDS Movement.

The party question

Marcel Paret’s book, “Fragmented Militancy: Precarious Resistance in South Africa after Racial Inclusion,” tries to make sense of politics in South African urban informal settlements.

The missing pieces

Between melancholy, terror, and disillusion, Petit Pays is a groundbreaking and eye-opening take on one of the darkest pages of African history, one that is often misunderstood in the West.