In Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBT people are forced to live their lives in secret over fears of violence and murder, a British playwright and producers are staging the country’s first gay-themed play.
The River and the Mountain, written by Beau Hopkins, is a tragicomic portrait of a gay businessman in the East African nation. According to The Washington Post:
The main character is a 29-year-old corporate businessman whose mother desperately wants him to get married. The woman pays a Christian pastor to “cure” her son after she learns of his homosexuality. When the cleric fails to achieve her objective, she wants her money back. Then she enlists the services of a private dancer and, finally, a witchdoctor. She never succeeds in her mission.
At his workplace, the gay character’s employees are so shocked to learn he is gay that they wonder aloud, “But he is a good man.” In the end their new hatred for their boss overpowers any affection they previously felt for him, and the play ends as they swing machetes, baying for his blood.
Not only were producers prohibited from producing the play at Uganda’s national theater, but they couldn’t even hang posters publicizing it there. As a result, The River and the Mountain debuted at a little-known theater in the country’s capital, Kampala, last Friday amid fears of a police raid.
The play could still see the national theater stage if government censors authorize it, though that’s a big “if.” Uganda signed a law three years ago proposing the death penalty for so-called “aggravated homosexuality,” while last year prominent activist David Kato was murdered after being publicly outed by a national tabloid.
In the face of all this violence and oppression, August has nonetheless been a month of firsts for the Ugandan LGBT community with gay activists previously holding their first pride parade. Gay activist Pepe Julian Onziema called the staging of the play “revolutionary,” telling The Washington Post, “I think it’s time that we opened our minds to the things happening in our midst.”
The play’s producers and directors plan to bring The River and the Mountain to other East African countries in hopes to “normalize the gay character” in the region.