The production of the gay-themed play The River and the Mountain in Uganda this August led to the imprisonment of producer David Cecil for violating the nation’s ban on promoting homosexuality. For actor Okuyo Joel Atiku ‘Prynce’, the overwhelmingly negative backlash has been worth it.
Prynce played the lead character, Samson, a gay factory owner who is killed by his workers after they are incited by a conservative pastor. The actor told Radio Netherlands that “literally 100 percent” of the reactions he got after the play were negative. “Even from people from whom I least expected it,” he said, “like fellow artists and guys at UBC [Uganda’s public broadcaster]. ‘Are you not yet killed?’ someone from UBC asked me.”
Though he had expected the play to create controversy, Prynce insisted that breaking taboos is the very nature of art. “I partook in the play because of the artistic challenge and to drive debate, to make people realize that gay people are part of society too.”
Rehema Nanfuka was The River and the Mountain‘s conservative pastor and she thinks the play “has only alienated Ugandans further from homosexuals.”
“In retrospect, I question the effectiveness of discussing homosexuality the way we did,” she said. “I had hoped that the play would influence at least some opinions. Yet, of all the people I know, only my mum now slowly starts understanding homosexuality. I am not sure anymore if the people to whom we are preaching, are interested in change at all.”
Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister, Simon Lokodo has threatened the actors from The River and the Mountain with possible prosecution, which Prynce is prepared to ignore. “Those prohibitions don’t find a basis in our constitution,” he said. “I don’t need permission to be free. You can’t ‘give’ me freedom.”