“Born This Way” is a coming-of-age story. It is about figuring out who you are within a culture that rejects some of the most fundamental parts of your identity. And it is about the ways that cultures can shift toward greater acceptance. We open with Cédric, a young man who lives in Douala, a lawless, sprawling port city on the coast of Cameroon in Central Africa. Cédric is gay. He only admitted this to himself a few years ago. When we meet him he is quite optimistic, perhaps even naïve. He says that his biggest inspiration to be himself is Lady Gaga. He wants to come out to his mother, who is the most important person in his life. His life is not easy, but it contains great joy.
We follow Cédric to Alternatives Cameroun, an underground LGBT center where he works as director of HIV/AIDS prevention programs. Alternatives is on a coming-of-age journey of its own. It has operated secretly as an LGBT center since it was founded several years ago by Cameroonian Dr. Steave Nemande, but now it is beginning to assert itself publicly and to advocate for decriminalization of being gay–a crime that carries a jail sentence of up to five years.
A gay rights movement as such does not yet exist in Cameroon, but this is where it is beginning, in and around Alternatives Cameroun, which is our film center of gravity. All of our story threads connect here.
Cédric’s friend Gertrude works with him at Alternatives. She was raised in a Catholic convent and is now having a secret relationship with another woman. Trying to reconcile her deep faith with an honest expression of her sexual identity, she returns to her ancestral village to come out to her Mother Superior.
While Gertrude is away, a group of young men from Cédric neighborhood attack him. They have found out that he is gay and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t move. Soon after, two young women in a remote village are arrested for “lesbianism and witchcraft,” and the group sets out to find a lawyer to defend them in court.
Homophobia is more pervasive in Cameroon than almost anywhere in the world. In all of the threads of this story, we see people trying to understand who they are, forming and adapting their deepest selves as they move between a loving, secret community and an unpredictable and often hostile outside world. Will Cédric escape his neighborhood before the thugs attack him again? Will Gertrude be expelled from her spiritual community for asserting her identity? Will the young women on trial be found guilty?
NOTE DI REGIA
Two years ago, we met Steave Nemande, a Cameroonian doctor visiting the US to raise awareness about the situation for gays and lesbians in his country. As Steave described Alternatives Cameroon, a secret LGBT center he helped create, it became clear that the situation in Cameroon was different from Uganda and other places in Africa. We heard stories of a tight-knit community that was hidden and yet beginning to take on the monumental task of changing the law in Cameroon. We heard of fashion shows and dance parties, intense fear and boundless courage. This center became the film’s actual and symbolic center of gravity. The experience of shooting in Cameroon (illegally, with tourist visas, on a shoestring budget) put us in direct contact with the danger they face daily. We cautiously moved in and out of the one sanctuary in the city where none of us had to hide, and we sculpted this film around our subjects’ day-to-day encounters with these fears. What we found astonished us. This is not an essay film. It is a view from the inside. The global issues take shape in the background while the daily lives of our subjects–raw, intimate, utterly remarkable–take center stage. (Shaun Kadlec e Deb Tullmann)