LFF 2020 ‘I am Samuel’ Review: A Gay Kenyan Man Seeks Understanding From His Family

Samuel is a gay Kenyan man. Over five years we see him struggle against a society that hates him for who he is, including his family with whom he had shared a very close bond. He begins to make concessions to the society he longs to be a part of, but risks compromising who he really is.

The film interrogates the motives behind the homophobia Samuel experiences. Of course, homophobia is not rational, and is routed in the prejudices of the people in his life. This is disguised under the pretext of religious concerns, family traditions and practical considerations. Scenes that escape the provincial intolerance and focus on the burgeoning communities of gay people are wonderful, especially a sequence depicting an engagement ritual between Samuel and his boyfriend. Light breaks through the clouds, even if it is unfortunately hidden away from the public.

The film also affords an intimate portrayal of Kenyan rural life. We see the work that forms the daily lives of the people. We watch as homes are built and farms tilled. We see families playfully interact and get an idea of how these people fit in to each others lives. But there is also the menace. The terrible acts of violence that this community is willing to commit on anyone who differs from the norm. It becomes unclear how tolerance and understanding could take root here.

I am Samuel is a roadmap to understanding. It’s about how to chance conservative communities by starting in the home, taking it one family at a time. It’s a film about patience and love and how time may yet save us all.

Four Stars

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