Scene from the movie Umunthu: An African Response to Homosexuality

When Mwizalero Nyirenda decided to make a film about homosexuality, he hoped that it would spark a more open and positive debate about the issue in Malawi. And it did – acting as the catalyst for a much more objective debate about the controversial topic.

But his short documentary – Umunthu: An African Response to Homosexuality – has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams by generating enough international attention for it to be selected for the 22nd annual Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in Los Angeles.

Established in 1992, PAFF aims to present and showcase the broad spectrum of Black creative works, particularly those that reinforce positive images and help destroy negative stereotypes.

And Umunthu certainly fits those criteria. A first person documentary about the controversy surrounding homosexuality in Malawi, the film follows the journey of three young Malawians, each of whom has opposing views on gay rights – against the backdrop of increasing homophobia and hate speech under the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, and debates over whether to revise the laws criminalising homosexuality under the current president, Joyce Banda.

Filmed in 2012, Umunthu was intended to trigger public debate on the issue of gay rights. “Umunthu” is a Bantu concept that refers to the interconnectedness of all human beings and is often defined by the phrase: I am because you are. The film uses the concept of Umunthu to unpack the controversy and politics surrounding gay rights in Malawi, and to begin to shape an African response to this issue.

A student at the University of Malawi, Nyirenda was assisted by OSISA’s HIV and AIDS and Education Programmes through their Students with Dreams Initiative, which is part of the innovative Make Art Stop AIDS project.

“This is a proud moment for both programmes at OSISA as we are continually looking for innovative and effective ways to break the silence around culturally contentious issues by using theatre and performing arts as a tool for social change,” said Chivuli Ukwimi, OSISA’s Marginalised Populations Coordinator. “It’s a superb film and it has already achieved far more than we could have hoped for.”

The film will be shown at PAFF on the 11th, 16th and 17th of February.


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