I Am Samuel – BFI London Film Festival

Written by Ricardo Acosta & Peter Murimi

Directed by Peter Murimi

Rating: 3 out of 5.

While identifying as gay isn’t strictly illegal in Kenya, the act of engaging in a relationship with someone of the same gender or sex is. An openly honest account of a young gay man’s struggles with receiving the equality he deserves, I Am Samuel documents five years of Samuel’s life as he moves to steadily introduce his parents, his friends and hopefully, one day, his country into accepting who he is.

I Am Samuel’s unobtrusive verité-style maintains authenticity in how it delivers the truth across the film, refusing to pander to ideas of a manipulated narrative for dramatic effect. As director Peter Murimi gradually introduces the audience to Samuel, his partner Alex, and their subsequent friends and family, time is given to develop them as people, rather than encouraging snap judgements. This verité comes at a cost though, as the film’s flow stifles, and any seeking a form of closure will be pressed to find one given Kenya’s continued attitudes towards the love between two members of the same gender.

The longevity to create pays off for Murimi’s debut piece, filming over five years allows for a definitive picture and flow of narration. The established relationship guarantees an openness from Samuel, concerning his relationship with Alex, as a level of trust is paramount given the nature of their relationship in a country violently opposed to love in a form which some are regrettably still unfamiliar with.

Depictions of violence only make up a minuscule, but impactful, anchor point for the film. Those who mindlessly preach on how things are different or that homophobia isn’t as prevalent need only watch the film’s opening moments. Censored, but still visceral, a young man is between and assaulted as the perpetrators hurl abuse and, breath-snatchingly declare to ‘teach him a lesson’, instructing one another to get a knife.

I Am Samuel doesn’t garb itself in shocking imagery, though one distressing scene shows the scars a man bares after being mistaken for Samuel. The dedication to their visibility is extraordinarily respected by Murimi, who strives to allow everyone the chance to tell their story and experiences – obviously, chiefly that of Samuel and his partner Alex. Nothing is treated as inconsequential, as it all goes to building the image of who Samuel is as a person and his ambitions, despite the conformation and expectations men in his culture face.

A level of established trust is evident as the camera works its way into Samuel’s parent’s homes to unfold their thoughts on the revelations of their son’s ‘friend’ Alex. Redon and Rebecca consistently harp on at their son to find a wife to both help with the family farm work, and to continue a legacy. His father Redon, a pastor, in particular raises eyebrows to this ‘friendship’ with Alex, discussing with the camera his concerns, as equally does his mother but for wholly individual reasons and worries for his safety.

Clean, capitalising on the beauty of the region, the film’s visual direction of light and aerial shots capture the stage for Samuel’s story. Backdrops are never parts of the narrative, outside of location changes to and from his parents or grandmothers residence. What aesthetical shots used enrapture, but stick within the verité guidelines to reinforce the film’s authenticity, rather than bathe in spectacle.

Leaning into the rights of humanity to be recognised through the players in this film, as opposed to a direct political allegiance, Murimi succeeds in building I Am Samuel’s legitimacy as a short documentary feature which manages to divulge five years of a young gay man’s life into seventy minutes. Will the film essentially change the fundamental rights to care and love across Kenya? Not likely, but in putting across Samuel’s story – Murimi’s documentary protects the autonomy and determination a young man has to love, hopefully improving his future. 

Razed & Confused goes Digital – Online

Written by Various

Serving up a digital variation of their usual live den of inequities, Beau Jangles hosts Razed and Confused, an evening of song, cabaret, experimental art, but above all else, an appreciation and promotion of queer artistry. This evening, four producers who are receiving funding and coaching from other creatives manifest their talents, their panache and flair into an evening which promises puns galore, and a few choice dance moves. For your viewing pleasure this evening, the marvellous quartet of Mr Wesley Dykes, Barbs, Brian and Symoné.

Strutting directly in from the forties, with an uncanny grasp of modern-day Zoom etiquette, Beau makes for an engaging host, charismatic, frank and lyrical– precisely the class act one would expect. Refusing to not share in the spotlight, Beau struts their stuff for a brief number or two, revealing a voice as sharp as their dress-sense and thankfully, as sharp as their tongue. Hosting duties stretch beyond the veil of entertainment, as Beau’s song choices reflect a commentary the evening doesn’t scream about but reminds the audience, that on the eve of the Black Trans Lives matter marches, how many more times will white, or cisgender people apologise, thinking these fix everything, how many more apologies will be issued before everything gets sorted.

It’s perhaps the most candid moment of social commentary in the evening, but not the only, as reminders ripple throughout the acts’ song choices, comedic skits, or artistic expression. On the whole, the four acts work triumphantly well, for the most part, with dips occurring in the more experimental elements which fail to offer a sense of identity or focus. Not unpleasant, merely disjointed, where the intent is evident, but the practice requires work.

What are complete pieces, demonstrating canny ability, are Mr Wesley Dykes ‘Dass Ghey As Fuq’, which seems at first to be a simple skit routine, morphing into a well-thought, still humorous, routine on the assumed ownership of hyper-sexuality by Masculinity. Together with Manly Mannington & Romeo De La Cruz, Dykes’ section deconstructs the obsessive masculinity imposed on young black men, and the damaging effects this fetishizing has, and the denial of enabling young women to express their sexual nature. The Black Boi Band routine is easily the most accomplished of the evening, balancing characterisation, movement, and lip-synching – the real weapons any Drag performer can pull out the bag.

Matching Dykes arsenal, Brian too is qualified lip-synch royalty, sharing the crown this evening for most rounded performance. Reading (a fundamental skill) from Womxn Offering Wisdom, Brian takes a more narrative approach with their performance, tying in fluid movements, similarly to queer circus performer Symoné. The pair share an evident ferocity, Brian’s conveyed through their lip-synching, Symoné through her prowess, almost feline movements. Both maintain a core of emotion; however, Symoné frequently recalls the Tarot card ‘Joker’, using a variety of video editing, and capitalises on effects to bewitch and alter reality.

Editing is a skill of Barbs, and while technically excellent, the piece struggles in communicating with the audience. The furthest from live theatre or performance, Barb’s routine lays as a short film, with various forms of imagery, costume, and aesthetical changes to further the film. As a collective, the liveness of Razed & Confused works, largely due to our host, but truly offers a snippet of the tremendous capabilities of these performers and their ability to hold a crowd. Teaming with Something to Aim For – Razed & Confused promotes the necessity of championing queer and black performers and will leave the audience dazed, hungry and ravenous to experience more from the Raze Collective – live or otherwise.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/razed-and-confused-goes-digital-online/

Photo Credit: Bruce Wang

Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah – The Studio

Directed by Tash Hyman

Written by Isla Van Tricht’s 

A child of Abraham, but all the same a sister queen, actor and drag queen Guy Woolf/Electra Cute and writer Isla Van Tricht’s production not only examines what it means to be open with yourself in the current world, but also explores the impact of religion, family and culture on one’s existence. Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah offers a compelling, humorous storytelling experience exploring a young queer woman’s journey through life, with just a few songs along the way.

Rabbis to the left of her, queer friends to the right, Electra finds herself struggling with the reconciliation of her identity. As well as fretting over explaining to her Jewish family, friends and neighbours her attraction to other women, Electra also worries about her gay friends discovering her cultural heritage and middle-class upbringing. It’s a precarious situation, in an era of supposed acceptance, where scrutiny still lies with attitudes towards anti-Semitic behaviour on a growing scale. Unafraid of fragility, Electra opens herself up to the audience. With her, we move from her days studying the Tanakh with friends to loft-room poetry readings, leading up to one big ol’ Queer Mitzvah celebration, with plenty of surprises.

Becoming Electra combines Woolf’s natural performance ability with Tash Hyman’s direction, which makes for an outgoing piece with a minimalist approach. Relying on ability, rather than spectacle, it allows the intended message to come across clearly without glam or interference. As such, the narrative journey Electra takes is relatable as she shifts around social groups, slowly accepting herself while finding discomfort in leaving behind her past. It’s a refreshing look at the incorporation of God into gender and sexuality, rather than a flat-out rejection of a higher being. 

As you may suspect, comedy plays a substantial part in Van Tricht’s script. Woolf’s drag prowess allows Electra to control a crowd with relative ease. Still, we gain a semblance of the person behind the performance. Woolf is awkwardly charming in his mannerisms as Electra, with extravagant facial expressions as her story culminates with a drunken mother, the free the nipple campaign and a touching connection with her grandfather. You also don’t have to be one of the faith to understand Woolf’s humour. Indeed, even those outside of London can understand the references made by Woof, including mentions to suburbs or shopping centres known for their Jewish communities.

Part of what makes Becoming Electra such a success is Van Tricht and Woolf’s dedication to not merely re-hash covers of songs from or about Jewish musicians, but instead adapt the lyrics and composition to create uniquely entertaining musical interludes. Excluding a sensational climax, which showcases Woolf’s vocals in a way which has been noticeably lacking in projection thus far, a take on the ever classic ‘Reviewing The Situation’ from Oliver! takes the song beyond stereotyping, turning it in on itself. Woolf’s voice here is a soothing affair; enticing, yet natural and refraining from showboating.

L’Chaim! all around for Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah, which captures the party atmosphere but still allows an intimate look into a cross-section of cultures many will only partially connect with or previously know existed. Wholly personal, Woolf communicates with a broad spectrum of people, which works tremendously in the production’s favour. A one-woman drag show, Woolf’s role as Electra offers a glimmer of light in the endless, bleak darkness of hopelessness. It is a sobering, wonderfully warm show.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/becoming-electra-queer-mitzvah/