When I first read the script, I really wanted to play the character of Olu, who is Samson’s best friend. But the scriptwriter encouraged me to take on the role of Samson. I read through it again, and thought, wow, this will be tough – by playing this role, I could put not only my career, but my life in danger. However, I starting thinking, how long are we going to keep quiet and watch people be mistreated and even sacrificed for their sexual orientation?
My character, Samson, is not rejected only by his best friend. His mother tries to "fix" him by taking him to a witch doctor and then to a prostitute. These things really happen in Uganda. I have a lesbian friend whose family organised a “corrective rape” for her, from which she contracted HIV. People turn a blind eye to such horrors.
Samson with the prostitute his mother tries to force him to sleep with.
“Ugandan society as a whole is not profoundly homophobic”
Because I myself am straight, I needed to do some research to make sure I understood what it’s like to live as a gay man here in Uganda. I spoke to some friends who are gay – all of whom are closeted. They are forced to suffer in silence. There is a huge taboo surrounding sex in general, and homosexuality in particular, in this country. The church preaches a lot of hate against gay people, and the government has made it worse by proposing the death penalty for homosexuals. However, this hatred is pushed by extremists, since Ugandan society as a whole is not profoundly homophobic. I found out while doing my research that most people, when I asked them about their views on homosexuality, did not really care if someone they knew was gay as long as they kept it to themselves.
I believe that once the taboo is broken, Ugandans will accept that people are people, no matter their differences. And I think that’s where art comes in. When popular musicians first started admitting they were HIV-positive, people became much more accepting of those around them living with HIV. So I don’t think we should wait around until the government wisens up and changes its laws. Our job is to open people’s eyes, until being gay is no longer even an issue, and we can concentrate on the real problems facing Uganda – corruption, terrible infrastructure, and lack of access to health care and education, some of which we also talk about in the play.
“Only two people walked out – one who was clearly homophobic, and an activist who thought the play wasn’t activist enough”
The reaction to the play makes me think we’re headed in the right direction, as we had a full house every night. Many of the people who came were from the neighbourhood we were playing in, and didn’t even know that the play would touch on homosexuality. It was a great success. Only two people walked out – one who was clearly homophobic, and an activist who thought the play wasn’t activist enough. But many gay people thanked us, saying that we perfectly captured their experiences. I heard one director said he wouldn’t work with me any more because I took on this role, but I don’t care – I did my job, and I am proud of it.