Tino Chikuni works at Hivos as a Program Officer for the ‘Free to be me’ program in Zimbabwe and Namibia. The program empowers LGBTQIA+ people to start making a change in their communities through socio-economic inclusion advocacy. Hivos’ prestigious ‘Free to be Me award’ is annually awarded to a movie that increases the visibility and acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people in a country where there is little room for diversity. This year’s winner is KAPANA, also showing at the QFFU. Tino tells us why this movie is so important.
Thank you for meeting with us Tino. Firstly, can you tell us a little about your work at Hivos?
Of course! My name is Tinoashira Chikuni and I am the program officer for the Free to be Me program in Southern Africa. I promote broader LGBTQIA+ rights in Zimbabwe and Namibia and, while doing so, try to bring a lot more allies to the table.
It’s an interesting job. Just recently, the Dutch ambassador mentioned the shrinking space for civil society organizations in Africa. Since LGBTQIA+ organizations have been working in restricted places from the beginning, there are so many things that other NGOs can learn from us.
What does the Free to Be Me Award entail? What is it about?
Free to be Me is in general focused on improving human rights, and socio-economic rights in particular. Since a disproportional number of LGBTQIA+ people in Namibia and Zimbabwe are economically disadvantaged, helping LGTBQIA+ people means helping people who really need it.
Part of the work is giving recognition and support to existing and upcoming work that impacts the community. Hivos’ Free to be Me Award is one of the ways we do that – celebrating cinematographic works that are not only insightful but become vehicles for change.
Just like how KAPANA has become a conversation starter for LGBTQIA+ rights. When queer people approach other people to talk about LGBTQIA+ topics, those people may feel that they are expected to act a certain way, even to like their LGBTQIA+ interlocutors. And that may be a bridge too far. Movies are less threatening for them to think about our issues.
“KAPANA is beautifully showing that LGBTQIA+ is just another type of human being, one of the many types that you get in Namibia.
Why is KABANA in particular awarded the Free to be Me Award?
KAPANA is a beautiful film and certainly well made. Cinematographically it is wonderful. Furthermore, it is our story that has been told by ourselves. But most important, it has been very influential, it has made an impact.
I think it has created such an impact because it’s one of the few African movies about LGBTQIA+ topics. Moreover, the dramatic love story of George and Simeon is been told in an everyday sort of way. LGBTQIA+ movies are often about suffering. KAPANA, however, is simply about two people falling in love.
Therefore, it’s showing people that we are just people, like so many others. Maybe slightly different, but different in the same way that a lot of other groups and tribes in Namibia are different. The country is already so diverse, culturally. KAPANA is beautifully showing that LGBTQIA+ is just another type of human being, one of the many types that you get in Namibia.
What risks did director Philippe Talavera take, by making this movie?
Being visible is being vulnerable. The moment you become visible as an LGBTQIA+, you open yourself up to attack, because being part of the community is still prohibited by law in Namibia. Well… engaging in any sort of non-heteronormative intimacy is. Being trans or intersex is not even known anywhere on the books, so imagine how this part of the community are being treated.
Talavera also took a leap of faith by staying away from typical dramatic situations, like I mentioned before. It is always safer to appeal to extreme emotions. But this director chose otherwise.
And finally, he took the risk to be stereotyped. To be known as ‘the gay director’ and to be not given any other types of movies. Hopefully it has paid off for everyone involved.
Since you’re mentioning the cast… The movie was released in 2020, do you know how they are doing right now?
I just spoke with Philippe recently. And they are doing well. They are pretty much exhausted by doing this whirlwind tour in different parts of the country and abroad. But they are making quite a lot of impact.
Before people were reluctant, they didn’t want to hear about it. And now there’s a movement among the ‘moveable middle’, as the NGO world tends to call it. And with very little backlash. Not even one single negative article, not in Zimbabwe, nor Namibia. I am actually surprised about that, to be honest.
Even as a country, people were reluctant before and didn’t want to hear it, but now they are starting to move towards wanting to understand the LGBTQIA+ community. Even the cultural and religious leaders. So, for contributing to this process, the movie KAPANA is a beautiful project and a well-deserving winner.
Check out KAPANA on August 22th. Want to know more about Hivos? Read last year’s interview here!