I Am Samuel: the film aiming to ‘change the narrative’ on being gay in Kenya

Samuel Asilikwa grew up in rural Kenya. There was a strict template for masculinity, informed by centuries of tradition – and intolerance. In a new documentary about his life, we see his father, a pastor, question Asilikwa about why he is yet to find a wife. We then watch as he relocates to Nairobi in search of work and adventure. He finds community, friendship and intense romance with a man called Alex. Peter Murimi’s film I Am Samuel, shot verité-style over the course of five years, is at its most powerful contrasting city and countryside. Kenya’s farmland, clay roads, shrubbery and corn fields are evidence of a still, yet cyclical, pattern of life compared with the infinite noise and claustrophobia of Nairobi. But it is also a film about a shifting political landscape, where “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is punishable by 14 years’ imprisonment. Murimi had wanted to make a film examining the tension between Kenya’s culture and queer love – a tension that often leads to violence – for some time, after hearing the upsetting testimony of a close friend. He found collaborators in We Are Not the Machine, a local production company that tells the stories of outsiders; together, they determined the best route through the minefield. “When we were brainstorming, I thought it would be really cool to have a documentary that basically is very African in its styling, but also tries to show what happens to the dynamic of a family when you have a queer son or daughter,” he says.