Queer Universities in a time of reordering

We live in a time of reordering, and what a time it is to be alive.

Just this January, the continent’s first Queer Feminist film festival was held in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Now, a few months later, there’s been another filmic intervention — this time in Accra, Ghana — in the longstanding erasure and dehumanisation of LGBTQ+ (and women and disabled folk) in societies across the board.

The event, a film workshop named Queer Universities, was an initiative of Drama Queens, a feminist and pan-Africanist theatre organisation based in Accra, in collaboration with Queer University, a Chinese LGBTQ+ advocacy centre.

Queer Universities links in with Drama Queens’ theme for this year: Just Like Us. The phrase is acquired from photographer Eric Gyamfi’s art installation which “explores the humanness of queer African people in their societies.”

For Drama Queens, adopting Just Like Us as the theme for 2018 simply means that this is their “year of attempting to change attitudes towards the African LGBTQ+ community”.

It follows the organisation’s intersectional politics that they would add other themes of oppression — disability and gender — to the Queer Universities curriculum.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and Director of Drama Queens, said that the inclusion of the theme of disability, particularly, was very important to her.

“Considering the unfair marginalisation and prejudice which hinders people from their rights to live a full humanity, encourging our participants to consider making film around the theme, teaching them the correct languaging, and the best ways of portrayal in film, is a way by which we want to contribute to changing cultural attitudes towards disability.”

Exemplar of such thoughtless cultural attitudes is the tweet, sent out by Accra-based radio station, Joy FM, in the wake of Stephen Hawking’s demise, which essentially shamed persons with physical impairments in Accra.

No prior knowledge or skill in cinema was required for participation in Queer Universities — only an interest in making film around the themes stated.

Over the course of one week, the eight selected participants were taken through rigorous explorations of the relevant themes. The sessions were duly interspersed with technical camera training periods facilitated by Wanlov the Kubolor and Kit Hung, both filmmakers and LGBTQ+ rights activists.

An overarching pointer by the various facilitators was about the potency of film as a medium to do — and also undo — damage, regarding the representation of marginalised groups in our societies.

In line with that proposition, the facilitators, about a dozen artists, activists and resource persons, drew primarily from film to highlight how much erasure and dehumanisation societies deal queer people and persons living with disabilities.

Indeed, there is a general dearth, in African popular culture, of output that affirms and humanises such groups of people. In the arena of literature, there’s a passable increase, in recent times, of nuanced, humane narratives of queer Africans. An immediate example of this being Cassava Republic’s forthcoming collection She Called Me Woman, which “covers the experiences of queer women from across Nigeria”.

In film, which is arguably a more vantage medium of (re)presenation, the offerings are, comparatively, few and far between. Notwithstanding, there are efforts such as Jim Chuchu’s Stories of Our Lives, The Mob by Gamel Apalayine, and most recently, the John Trengove direced Inxeba (The Wound), which got its share of homophobic hostility.

Ayanda Seoka, a Queer Universities participant from South Africa, spoke about the workshop in the context of this “Inxeba climate”.

“I think the fact that we’re in 2018 and the film was reacted to like this shows that the kind of work we’ve just done now at Queer Universities needs to happen. Because,” she adds, “we need to be having these conversations — publicly, and we need to be creating this kind of work; and to be sending it out there so people can see more, and understand, so that they can start thinking differently.”

Four of the eight participants were awarded with winning packages at the end of the workshop. This was based on film ideas they pitched. The package includes a four-month mentorship period, funding to realise their film projects, and a trip to China to show their films at the Beijing Queer Film Festival.

Fatima Derby, a writer who at the beginning of the workshop was a novice at filmmaking, was one of the four winners. On the significance of the win, she said: “As a feminist and LGBTQ+ activist, I’ve always wanted a larger platform to talk about these issues, and this prize affords me that. It is a good opportunity for me to talk about something that I’ve really been bothered by.” Fatima’s project will be a documentary film that will seek to explore “bisexual invisibility and its effects.”

The work to alter homophobic, ableist, patriarchal — in short, oppressive — social climes is far from being done. But initiatives such as Queer Universities inspire hope. (Hope, in this case, that more exposure to films that humanely portray queer people and persons living with disabilities can help us all free ourselves of inhuman sociocultural notions of queerness and disability.)

In such hope lies sustenance for the struggle towards dismantling the kyriarchal order.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting.

*All images courtesy of Eric Gyamfi, who was part of Queer Universities 



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