Under a hidden rainbow, Zimbabwean gays celebrate the power of film

The acclaim that has greeted the gay coming-of-age drama "Moonlight" has inspired the gay community in Zimbabwe. (Photo courtesy of the A24 production company)
In Zimbabwe’s LGBT community, the acclaim that has greeted the gay coming-of-age film “Moonlight” has encouraged would-be film-makers. (Photo courtesy of the A24 production company)

The movie “Moonlight” has inspired Zimbabwe’s LGBT community, especially in combination with the recent Rainbow Film Festival and training sessions for future movie-makers.

By David Allan

They filter into an open-air auditorium that is dimly lit on an autumnal evening, the wind caressing their unloved skin as they congregate quietly yet resolutely.

The wind, biting yet a bit warm compared to previous days, says that although they may not be loved in their country, at least the weather still has a bit of love for them.

They are Zimbabwe’s gay community, coming together for The Rainbow 263 Film Festival, a two-day event organised by local activists and attended by several international visitors. (Zimbabwe’s international calling code is 263.)

This two-day event is the culmination of a week-long program under the “Queer University” banner, where experts quietly flew in to teach film-making skills to select members of the gay community and to empower them financially to bring their own little projects to life.

Scene from the movie "Moonlight." (Photo courtesy of the A24 production company)
Scene from the movie “Moonlight.” (Photo courtesy of the A24 production company)

Festival goers watched gay-themed international films and were encouraged by awareness of the acclaim that has greeted the American coming-of-age drama “Moonlight,” about a gay African-American boy becoming a young man.

“It is warm to see how strong Zimbabweans are under such circumstances. And sharing documentaries made along gay themes around the world has helped them tell their own stories according to their perspectives,” says one international figure who had flown in for the festival as a tutor and mentor.

Zimbabwe’s government is one of a number of African countries that outlaws same-sex relationships. The country’s president, Robert Mugabe, has openly attacked that community, famously labeling them in public gatherings as being “lower than pigs and dogs.”

Homophobic Zimbabweans have interpreted those words as condoning violence towards this sexual minority and denying the victims any protection from their own government.

But yesterday, the final day of the event, the atmosphere was different. Occasional nods at one another, embraces, giggles and lit faces among the members of the gay community as well as notable allies in the crowd made clear that they felt empowered to create their own stories in a media environment from which they have previously been excluded. No longer will the narratives told about them be only the ones that paint them in a bad light.

Scene from the movie "Moonlight." (Photo courtesy of the A24 production company)
Scene from the movie “Moonlight.” (Photo courtesy of the A24 production company)

“I have been empowered to tell the true stories of our community after
this course. Seeing other international documentaries produced
elsewhere shows me that, with the necessary support, we can shape our own narrative,” says Nyarai (not her real name), one of the three lucky students whose concepts shall receive funding for production.

“It has been a long time coming but, if the world is celebrating telling their own stories, it is high time we did that too and this monetary support to produce our films will go a long way into making our dreams come true,” Nyarai says, a smile taking over her face.

Many in Zimbabwe’s gay community have borne the brunt of even physical reprisals. Their tales, told through their own wounds and scars, are bound to be gripping and powerful.

But for now, they can sit around and watch films and documentaries that celebrate their humanity and, although the rainbow has to be hidden in the almost palpable darkness of the auditorium, at least for today they are happy and sense a new day coming in their narratives. Narratives that they will finally own.

David Allan is a Zimbabwean writer and human rights activist. He writes under a pseudonym.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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