Ugandan Transgender Rights Take Center Stage in Doc
The Pearl of Africa is a forthcoming documentary feature that follows 27-year old student and transgender activist Cleopatra Kambugu as she openly transitions in her native Uganda where earlier this year parliamentarians sought, albeit unsuccessfully, to make her very existence a crime punishable by death. Earlier this year, Kambugu was publicly outed on the front page of Ugandan tabloid magazine Red Pepper soon after President Yoweri Museveni signed the reprehensible Anti-Homosexuality Act into law. Forced into hiding with other LGBTI Ugandans to avoid mob attacks and arrest, Cleo lost her job and eventually relocated to Nairobi, Kenya.
Filmmaker Jonny von Wallström shadowed Cleo for 18 months amidst mounting anti-gay discrimination as she worked towards improving the welfare of Uganda’s LGBTI community. In an essay written for the Huffington Post, von Wallström indicated that his impulse behind the creation of the film was to show other LGBTI Ugandans that they are not alone while “tell[ing] a story that humanizes the trans community” in an effort to change the prejudiced perceptions held by many. To avoid drawing attention to Cleo and the project at large, von Wallström moved into the Kampala apartment that Cleo shared with her boyfriend Nelson to create a moving, personal portrait of an African woman’s desire to navigate her gender expression and identity on her own terms.