Homosexuality in Africa? « It doesn’t exist », was the answer that Laurent Bocahut and Philip Brooks got when they started researching their documentary on the subject. Nevertheless, two years later, the French-German channel Arte screened Woubi chéri, starring a whole hoard of Ivoirian woubis and yossis, under the forceful direction of Barbara, a transvestite who demands that her « girl-friends » be given rights.
Besides, if homosexuality was non-existent in Africa, why would it be so heavily sanctioned? In a good many African countries, the law states that persons convicted for homosexuality will be fined, imprisoned or sentenced to death. Homosexuals and lesbians have been the target of particularly virulent attacks by the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, who publicly called them « pigs » who partook in « bestial practices ». However, there are exceptions. South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to include a clause in its constitution making discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation illegal.
In daily life, intolerance often forces homosexuals to live a more of less hidden life or to lead a double life as a good husband and father. In Senegal, the goor-jigéen or « man-woman », like Barbara, have made a place for themselves by adopting feminine clothes and behaviour.
Discretion seems to be the order of the day, especially for women, as Laurent Bocahut explains, « At first, I wanted it to cover the boys, girls and transvestites evenly. But we had trouble finding girls who would agree to be filmed. Their situation is very complicated. They’re either married with children, or they live with their parents and have to get married some day. Obviously, they can’t just come out and say they’re a lesbian ».
For the moment, none of the African channels are prepared to screen Woubi chéri. The documentary was presented at Fespaco 1999, along with Dakan by Guinean director, Mohamed Camara. At the press conference, the two films were the subject of heated debate that took place between those who were morally outraged and those who felt sympathy for the characters. Although Dakan could pass as pure fiction, Barbara was present at the conference to say what so many people do not want to hear – « Homosexuality well and truly exists in Africa and has always done so ».
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