Screening: Umunthu

Umunthu (2013 / 30min): screening of documentary film about homosexuality in Malawi

Umunthu_poster Final_Final


Art and Global Health Center Africa (AGHCA – is very excited to be screening the film Umunthu at the ‘Without Borders’ conference. Umunthu was made by a young Malawian film maker, Mwizalero Nyirenda (Mwiza), as part of AGHCA’s Students With Dreams programme.

The topic of homosexuality in Malawi is highly contentious and complex. It is commonly described and widely perceived as a western cultural imposition – ‘un-African’, ‘un-Malawian’ and ‘un-Christian’. LGBTI people face discrimination in their daily lives- a recent study by Afrobarometer found that only 6 out of 100 Malawians would tolerate having a homosexual neighbour (far greater intolerance than any other group included in the study, such as people of different ethnicities and immigrants), and research by the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation found only 2 of a sample of 24 health workers said they are not prejudiced against LGBTI people. Homosexual acts are criminalised, and a recent moratorium on arrests met a strong public backlash, triggering instances of targeted violence against the LGBTI community.

Against the perception of foreign imposition, Mwiza was moved to explore the topic of homosexuality through an African cultural lens – that of Umunthu, a Pan-African philosophical concept of humanity, often defined in the phrase, “I am because we are.” The film follows the journey of three young Malawians – the filmmaker and two friends who have opposing views on gay rights – as they explore the issue with experts and people in different parts of Malawi.

Umunthu has won the Sembene Ousmane prize at the Zanzibar International Film Festival and has been screened internationally at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Boston International Film Festival, Zanzibar International Film Festival, Harvard University and Boston University. It also won 4 awards at the first ever Malawian international film festival, Lilongwe Shorts in May 2015.

AGHCA has toured Umunthu around Malawian universities and other venues, to create a platform for discussion about homosexuality based around local concepts and values. We’re now shifting our programming to in depth workshops, applying the Umunthu philosophy and way of life to enable participants to reflect and engage on issues of stigma and discrimination, with a particular focus on LGBTI people. Ultimately the workshops aim to elicit empathy and bring awareness of our oneness as people.

Art and Global Health Center Africa is a small charity based in Zomba, Malawi. We believe in the transformative power of the arts for experiential learning, cross-cultural understanding, eliciting empathy and strengthening of community. We work to foster creative leadership and implement innovative arts-based health-oriented programmes that inspire and mobilise. Center programmes use collaboration to nurture healthy, empowered, open and active communities in Malawi.

The Umunthu film will be introduced by AGHCA’s Executive Director, Helen Todd.

Twitter: @aghcafrica1

The screening takes place on day 1 of the conference

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