While much progress has been made around the world in LGBTQ+ civil and human rights, it is sobering to consider that, in some countries, a person’s sexuality is still judged to be a crime.
In Kenya, for example, Penal Code 162 (unnatural offences) and 165 (indecent practices between males) makes homosexuality a felony. Those found “guilty” can expect a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Pete Murmi’s intimate and compelling documentary, I Am Samuel, examines what life it is like to be a gay man in Kenya and live with such discrimination, repression and fear.
Samuel was born and raised on a farm in a rural part of Kenya. After moving to the country’s capital city of Nairobi, Samuel met Alex who he describes, simply and poetically, as “the love of my life”.
Watching Samuel and Alex together, it is hard not to fall in love with them both. They are a supportive and loving couple. They are also used to keeping their relationship in the shadows - to do otherwise would be to risk rejection, punishment and violence.
In one horrific scene, we see footage showing one of Samuel’s friends being brutally attacked by a large crowd for being gay. It is shocking and frightening. Throughout his film, Murmi reminds us of the dangers inherent in Samuel and Alex’s relationship.
The Pressures Of Family Expectations
I Am Samuel examines Alex and Samuel’s struggle with the pressures of family expectations. Samuel’s parents expect him to marry a woman. They call Samuel and Alex “the twins” and choose not to see them for what they actually are - a loving couple.
While Alex appreciates being one of the family (as Samuel’s close friend), he regrets only being able to reveal half of his identity. Being truly himself would risk Samuel’s relationship with his father, a preacher at the family’s local church, and could lead to him being disowned.
Why then would the couple agree to participate in I Am Samuel? “Peter, who is filming us, encouraged me to share my story because it’s important,” Samuel explains. The couple’s selflessness and bravery is incredibly moving.
The importance of this issue, the legal ramifications at play and the ever present threat of violence could well have suffocated I Am Samuel. However, Murmi avoids this pitfall by including many joyful moments of community and companionship. Sensitive and respectful throughout, he maintains his focus on the powerful love between Samuel and Alex.