A Forbidden Love in Malawi

Nosipho Mngoma of the 2013 Talent Press Durban reviews the South African documentary TWO MEN AND A WEDDING, directed by Sara Blecher.


Africa is still largely homophobic. Homosexuality is illegal in 37 of the 54 countries on the continent. The death penalty is imposed in two and punishable with life imprisonment in three countries. South Africa is the only country with gay rights entrenched in the constitution and which allows gay marriage.

Yet, lesbians are still being killed and "correctively" raped at an alarming rate. In Malawi, same sex relations carry a sentence of up to 14 years and that was the punishment Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga received for openly loving each other.

Award winning director Sara Blecher brings us their story in the documentary film TWO MEN AND A WEDDING. The film, which is in competition for the Amnesty International Durban Human Rights Award, poignantly explores the implications of being gay in Africa today and the couple's battle for human rights and dignity. It is part of the Sexual Identities theme included in this year's Durban International Film Festival to acknowledge the wide diversity of sexual identities.

The film features grainy cell phone footage which forms a stark contrast to the other professionally shot footage, but this cinema verité adds to the feeling of realism. According to Blecher, she made two trips to Malawi. One during the court case and the other after the couple was released from prison and Tiwonge went into hiding while Steven was jailed, making access to them for interviews difficult. One misses their voices in the film, we don't hear enough of their personal anguish and how they felt being the symbol of gay rights in a country where religion and law inherited from colonial times is used to persecute them.

The director however captures the outrage of ordinary Malawians allowing the audience to form an understanding of the perceptions of gay people in the country and the cruelty against gay people. These negative perceptions extend to the media which, in newspaper clippings and television interviews with the couple, reported in a condescending manner which is extremely offensive.

The court case and sentence drew international attention and Belcher includes this in the film but the audience never knows where the protest in support of the couple originates. More weight could have been given to these in the film.

This film definitely needs to be supported just as people's right to be who they are.