Director: Peter Murimi
Words – Rhiannon Topham.
A directorial debut by Peter Murimi, I Am Samuel documents the story of Samuel, a gay man raised in the Kenyan countryside but now living in Nairobi. It is a truly courageous work which balances Samuel’s love for his traditionally-minded family with his partner Alex and his close community of fellow queer men. Alex is the love of Samuel’s life, yet the culture in Kenya is such that homosexuality is cause for public outcry.
This is a country where being LGBTQ+ is criminalised, and the social stigma of being non-heterosexual is intense, violent; early into the film we are shown video footage of a man beaten in the street because of his sexuality.
Samuel’s parents are poor rural farmers who for the majority of the film do not know he is gay, and who consistently request he marry so that his wife can help around the farm and home. His father Redon, a pastor at the local church, watches on with extreme suspicion when Samuel brings Alex with him on a visit. This leads Samuel to eventually confess the nature of his ‘friendship’ to his father, and by the end of the film his parents reach a compromise by masking the relationship with the pretense that Alex is Samuel’s twin brother.
Alex recounts his own biography earlier in the film, in which his father disowns him because his sexuality offends him. These are so much more than brave decisions. They are matters of life and death.
The direction of I Am Samuel is one of intimacy and empathy; Samuel, his friends and family are allowed the space to be themselves without judgement, a quiet real-time exploration of the human connection guided by Samuel’s reflective narration.
As a viewer, there are moments which make you uncomfortable, and that is the point–the mountain of difficulties faced by Alex and Samuel should force you to check your own relative privilege. Underlying the film’s tensions is a message of hope and optimism, for the perseverance of love over tradition as well as gradual acceptance of alternative family structures to the conservative ideal.
Details of I Am Samuel screening at the 2021 Human Rights Watch Film Festival can be found here: