The story of Samuel is a powerful message to remind everyone that the fight for LGBT+ rights is far from over.
It’s a sad fact to date that over 70 countries still carry judicial laws which stop people who identify as queer from being able to fully express themselves. In Kenya, although it’s not illegal to be queer and to fall in love, engaging in homosexual acts still warrants a 14-year prison sentence under colonial-era laws. It’s this unfortunate reality which lurks in the background throughout Peter Murimi’s directorial debut, I Am Samuel, an intimate and inspirational documentary filmed over five years about young gay Kenyan couple Samuel and Alex, as they handle the pressures of family loyalty, and the challenges of living in a country where homosexuality is criminalised.
Over the course of its brief 72mins run time, we follow Samuel over two primary locations: in Nairobi where he lives with Alex, and the Kenyan countryside where his heavily traditional parents reside; his father, Redon, is a pastor at the local church as well as a rural farmer with his wife/ Samuel’s mother Rebecca. Throughout the film, Murimi interchanges between these scenarios, building a picture of Samuel as a person and using his story as a means to examine Kenya’s societal attitude surrounding the LGBT+ community.
I Am Samuel’s length is short, but there’s still plenty to digest and take away from it, such as how Samuel and Alex are treated with their friends in contrast to Samuel’s parents. Around their friends, the couple feel free to relax and express their love as though a bubble of safety has formed to protect them from outsiders who set on enacting damage. Around Redon and Rebecca, there is an unquestionable sense of tension in the air. Redon longs for Samuel to be married due to his deeply religious beliefs, and as he leads a prayer for the two men to return safely back to Nairobi, there’s anger and desperation shouting from his words.
Although the film is told through warmth and a gentleness that some viewers might find too soft, what hits you is the sheer bravery of everyone involved in order to bring Samuel’s story to light. During the beginning, we’re shown a horrific homophobic beating of one of their friends on the street; a brutal reminder of the consequences if anyone’s safety if compromised. There’s also sheer bravery in Samuel for allowing Murimi and his film crew private access into his life, especially given the cinematography is mainly vérité style but unobtrusive to an extent. At times, there are memorable occasions documented like Samuel and Alex’s 1st anniversary gathering in their cramped apartment that you feel privileged to watch due to their circumstances, which is a
The film’s laid-back nature means that Murimi carefully navigates the audience through the emotional complexity of Samuel’s situation with ease and sensitivity, and there are moments that will warm your heart, and others that will break it. But most importantly, the film leaves on a sense of hope without compromising a powerful message regarding how the fight for LGBT+ rights around the world is far from over. To put simply, I Am Samuel is a courageous feat.
I Am Samuel, directed by Peter Murimi, is distributed in the UK via We Are Not the Machine, certificate TBA. It will be showing at the London Film Festival on Saturday 10th October, tickets are available here.