SA gay filmmakers feared for their lives after Zim threats

A scene from My Name is Rose

A scene from My Name is Rose

The makers of a South African lesbian-themed film were forced to cancel their trip to its screening in Zimbabwe after receiving threats.

Mlungisi Msomi, co-director of My Name Is Rose, told Mambaonline that he and his husband (and co-director), Sekara Mafisaand, were invited to attend the historic Harare screening on 4 October.

Showing as part of the 17th Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF), My Name Is Rose was touted to be the first LGBTI-themed film to be screened to the general public in the country

The movie addresses issues such as forced marriage, African tradition and the newly discovered love between two young African women within a patriarchal society.

On Saturday, 3 October, after taking part in the Pretoria Pride parade, the filmmakers were on their way to the airport to fly to Harare when they were called by Festival Director Elton Mjanana.

According to Msomi, Mjanana told the couple that due to an article on Mambaonline and posts on social media about the film’s screening, “the Zimbabwe authorities questioned the ZIFF [on their] promotion of the LGBTI, especially the attendance of the directors.”

Mjanana further warned the men not to attend the festival “for our own safety,” but did promise to screen the film.

Msomi believes the threats were linked to the speech made just days earlier by President Mugabe at the UN Generally Assembly, in which he proclaimed “We are not gay”.

“I did think that this had something to do with the film program as it was already making waves in Zimbabwe, as well as the Mambaonline post. We feared for our lives,” he added.


Sekara Mafisa and Mlungisi Msomi at Pretoria Pride

While the filmmakers didn’t get to attend the screening, the film was shown twice as planned in Harare without incident, which Msomi described as “a victory.”

He remains committed to telling queer stories in Africa. My Name is Rose is one of nine planned LGBTI-themed short films to tell stories of young men and women dealing with their sexuality or gender identify.

“We know what is waiting ahead of us,” Msomi said defiantly, revealing that screenings of his film are next planned for Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Mozambique.

“We will fight tooth and nail to get My Name Is Rose to be included in public film festivals not just LGBTI festivals. We want gay society to claim the space they deserve, by telling queer stories to the public,” he insisted.

The filmmakers’ second film in their series, I Am The Rose, is to début in Johannesburg on Thursday 15 October.

Gay sex and public affection are illegal in Zimbabwe, with penalties of up to three years in jail. Same-sex marriage is also illegal, as entrenched in the country’s Constitution.

Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe has stated that gay people are “worse than pigs and dogs” and that they “don’t have any human rights at all.”

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