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

South Africa’s Left needs a new party

Assuming today’s socioeconomic crisis benefits the Left is folly. That will only happen if we have the political vision to make class the fault line of social polarization, and for that we need to face the challenge of constructing a new party.

The king is dead

The death of the Zulu king highlights the unresolved issues that continue to shapes lives in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.

The unforeseen threat

Many of Nairobi’s apocalypse merchants and prophesy peddlers have disappeared in the past year. Reflections on how COVID-19 has re-shaped the city and residents’ lives.

The reluctant scientist

The late Tanzanian president, John Pombe Magufuli, was initially lauded for his no-nonsense approach to corruption. But the cracks began to appear within months of his presidency.