God Loves Uganda

Jan 16, 2014 at 9:47 AM ET

Oscar-winning documentary maker Roger Ross Williams was scared for his life in Uganda. He was filming a movie about homosexuality in the country, and the crusade to criminalize it, when he was outed to a group of anti-gay pastors. They were considering a bill that meted out the death penalty for “people like him.”

But that didn’t stop Williams from making a full-length feature about the American evangelicals who also supported the bill, and who were actively campaigning in Uganda on its behalf. The bill passed in December 2013 and now awaits President Yoweri Museveni’s signature.

“It’s hard to know if he’s going to sign the bill because it’s incredibly popular amongst the Ugandan people. I think it’s like 95 percent or something that want to see this bill passed,” Williams tells Vocativ.

“But [President Museveni] has incredible pressure from the international community, so it’s really up to the international community to keep that pressure going,” he adds. “I think that Museveni is probably pretty dependent on his aid from the West.” Uganda receives billions of dollars in aid from the likes of the United States and Great Britain, though the latter stopped the money flow in November 2013 after learning that corrupt Ugandan ministers had stolen millions.

Corruption also played a part in the success of this bill, which sentences gay people to life in prison (changed from the death penalty). “Gay people are an easy scapegoat,” says Williams. The issue helps the Ugandan government distract the public from the problems of corruption and health crises, among others.

It’s not just being gay; you can’t even act gay. A British theater producer was deported from the country for staging a play with a gay character without the government’s permission. Uganda is hardly the only African country to criminalize homosexuality. Repressive laws span the continent, as most recently evidenced by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signing a bill banning same-sex relationships and membership in gay rights groups earlier this week. Dozens of people have already been rounded up and arrested.

Williams appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Jan. 13 and visited the Vocativ studios the day after to discuss his film and experiences in Uganda.