I am Samuel is a tender and intimate portrayal of two gay black men, Samuel and Alex’s relationship, directed by Pete Murimi, although it isn’t that simple.
I am Samuel is also striking simply because of its subject matter, we rarely see black homosexual couples on screen. Add to this that Samuel and Alex are risking their lives because their society views homosexuality as taboo. As soon as the film starts, we’re visually assaulted by a very shocking and graphic assault on one of Alex’s friends who is also gay. If that wasn’t enough, in Kenya homosexual acts is a criminal offence punishable by a lengthy prison sentence. The irony of this criminality is that it was the British who introduced this law about 100 years ago. Even in an independent Kenya, colonial laws continue to enslave minority groups in the country.
Throughout this beautifully shot documentary, Murimi allows us to take in the seen and poignancy of what Samuel and Alex are risking for love. Samuel grew up on a rural farm until he left to head to Nairobi and his father wants him to marry a bride to help keep the house, cook etc. His parents know their son is gay but don’t want to admit that truth to themselves.
What Murimi does well is to never impose his voice in the place of Samuel, Alex or any other person featured in the documentary. In the silences, and there are many, it is the audience who hold their breath and sympathise with Samuel’s struggle to try to honour his family whilst following his heart. Murimi doesn’t shy away from showing the ugly side of Kenyan society both at large and within Samuel’s family when his sister calls to warn him his father has paid people to teach him a lesson.
There are many lessons for us all to learn whilst watching this film, and the most important one is that love is love but not all of us have the privilege to love who we love freely and openly. I defy you not to cry whilst watching this documentary in frustration but also fear for Alex and Samuel. I do hope they are both still safe and well.
I Am Samuel is being shown on 10 and 13 October 2020 as part of the London Film Festival.
I am Samuel is scheduled to screen as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival (co presented with BFI Flare) from 18 to 26 March 2021. There’s a Q&A with the filmmaker Peter Murimi on 20 March at 8.30pm, click here for details.