I Am Samuel BFI Flare review: the law against love

Posted on 7 April 2021
By Olivia Houghton
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The striking documentary I Am Samuel portrays an intimate snapshot into the life of a Kenyan man who must juggle his forbidden love and his family obligations.

Filmed over five years, we follow the love story of Samuel and Alex. The film made by Pete Murimi highlights the reality of being queer in Nairobi and some of the obstacles the duo are forced to face in a country where their love is criminalised.

Samuel grew up in the Kenyan countryside with his family. His father is a preacher at a local church and values tradition and reputation.

He moves away from the restraints of his small village to the capital, Nairobi, in search of a freer life.

Whilst in the capital, Samuel finds himself a community of LGBTQ+ men, and meets Alex. The couple’s love thrives, despite the Kenyan law which could incarcerate them for up to fourteen years.

With the threat of violence looming, the shadows of rejection and uncertainty darkening; Samuel and Alex must decide between their love for one another or their family’s acceptance in Kenyan society.

The documentary provides the Western viewer a glimpse into the harsh realities of being gay in Africa.

You could say that not only is this a shocking look into the life of two lovers, but also a powerful reminder of the occasional ignorance of Western culture and society.

The documentary was spoken in Swahili, which grounded the issues highlighted and the narrative depicted.

It’s refreshing to watch something in its native language as all too often we are presented with the privilege of English, which although helps us cognitively understand the film, not always provides the same depth of feeling and emotional understanding as hearing something in a native tongue would do.

Murimi paints an honest portrait of the couple and illustrates the inescapable ultimatum many other couples like them must also face.

In an interview, during BFI Flare, he told Purple Revolver about his intentions with the documentary: “I had two intentions: one is wanting international audiences to see the story and the other being besides the difficulty of being queer in Kenya.

“It is also a place where you can find love, a place where there is resilience and people are making the best out of it. They are not just victims.”

Not only did Murimi want an international audience to understand the issues, but also Africans who are unaccepting of homosexuality.

He added: “Someone really close to me was struggling to come out to their parents, and that’s when the idea of the film came.

“As a filmmaker naturally I thought if there is a film parents can watch and really understand what’s happening, that will be very helpful.

“At the time I couldn’t find a film that parents could relate to…there wasn’t anything that represented Africa.”

Murimi also mentioned that with his film, he intends share the issues in order to bring constructive change to the topic.

He elaborated: “Back home, the space is not there to have a constructive dialogue of advancing the LGBTQ+ rights and in a sense, it has become a toxic debate.

“People don’t even want to discuss it. So I’m hoping films like this can bring the issue mainstream in a very constructive way.”

The film exposes important, overlooked issues in a gripping and real manner. But he also showcases the determined, passionate and brave personalities of the individuals within the LGBTQ+ community.

The positive vibes from the community are contagious and leaves the audience feeling empowered on behalf of them.

This documentary is an educational must-watch, which allows viewers to catch a peek of life on the other side of the world.

Here’s a final word from Pete Murimi: “It was important to show everyone, besides the difficulties, Samuel and Alex are going to make it work.