On the 5th of September 2012, AFRA-Kenya officially launched a documentary film that can easily be described as the first of its kind. The screening of “I AM MARY” was done at the Inter News offices, I & M towers in Nairobi.
I AM MARY is the story of Mary, a Lesbian woman who volunteers with one of the GALCK member groups, Minority Women in Action (MWA) and an active participant in the fight for human rights for LGBTI persons in Kenya. I encourage everyone to keep an ear out for subsequent screenings of this novel documentary that will be announced in various websites and social networks including those of AFRA-KENYA and GALCK. You can also take a peek at IDENTITY KENYA’S interview with Mary.
Background of “I AM MARY” Documentary film.
Marys story has been known but never been told, at least not in the way AFRA did. Kate Qamunde, who belted out songs from her selling album, “Woman Lover” at different intervals during the event, told the audience of how AFRAs intention was to contribute to the “minimal evidence available” that had locked out Women who have sex with women (WSW) in HIV/AIDS intervention programming at government, NGO and even in international donor funding. The main reason given was that the only sexual and gender minorities that featured under most at risk populations (MARPs) were men who have sex with men (MSM), gay and bisexual men.
She said that their initial approach was a qualitative survey conducted all over the country that sought evidence of the number of Lesbian Identifying women who had sex with men, both gay and straight putting themselves at risk; it also sought to enumerate how many Lesbian and bisexual women had been raped by men (many lesbian and bisexual women have been tortured in a “corrective rape”). Their search for advice led them to Lorna Dias who runs the MSM programme at Liverpool VCT, Care and Treatment (LVCT) who pointed out to them that the survey would not be able to deliver the impact this issue needed. “Lorna advised us to do a documentary.” Kate said. It was more feasible to document stories.
AFRA approached Internews who have been working with the gay community in Kenya in many media related projects, to see if they can help in that regard. Lucky enough Internews was carrying out training at the same time and suggested that AFRA Members be part of that.
During the training, they set out to identify stories to document. Kate remembered the story of someone she had shared a room with at a recent conference. She floated the “story” to the newly trained AFRA –Kenya production team which included Maks , Kare, Rose, Immah, Geinah and herself which was working with the Internews team. Everyone immediately knew that this was the story needed for that particular cause. Mary was approached and her willingness to tell her story through this project set the team in motion. Kate says that they brought in Mary to be part of the training so that she could familiarize herself and be comfortable with the production team and anyone else who will be part of the production process.
Out of this training, the production team of “I AM MARY” was imparted with the skills to make it possible. Internews brought in Coetzee Zeitsman, a film production expert from SA, who gave the AFRA team a more hands on and on-the-job training.
The documentary film is about eight minutes long and doesn’t feature all the people interviewed.
The 8 minutes however, are perhaps the most powerful viewing experience I have ever had. All the bad things that can happen to a woman in a Kenyan health & wellbeing context have happened to Mary, yet this remains a story of hope! Hope derived from the love and support of her son, her friends, her faith and more so her courage and strength. What Mary demonstrates is ability to fight the intolerance, discrimination and stigma and come out victorious.
During the well attended screening at Internews, tweeter tags, #iammary and #khug were used to popularize the story.