“Masterfully crafted and astonishingly provocative, God Loves Uganda may be the most terrifying film of the year.”
– David Courier
Sundance Film Festival
“Incisive and absorbing”
While Uganda’s parliament considers an anti-homosexuality bill, which would mandate the death penalty for serial “offenders,” Western-supported megachurches flourish in the African country. Roger Ross Williams’ incisive and absorbing documentary “God Loves Uganda” makes a compelling case for the link between the two situations without connecting all the dots for viewers, and without condemning the young missionaries who flock to “the pearl of Africa” believing they are saving souls.
Williams’ alarm is balanced by his measured observation of a group of twentysomethings from the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer. The Pentecostal Christian group deploys missionaries worldwide, with a special zeal for Africa. The youthful proselytizers’ sincerity is evident, but the film emphasizes that such earnestness doesn’t preclude condescension — their encounters with locals, in which they threaten sinners with hell, are thoroughly dispiriting.
- Sheri Linden, Los Angeles Times
“A powerful film, a smart movie.”
- Alonso Duralde, What the Flick?!
Before I watched Roger Ross Williams’ documentary God Loves Uganda, the idea of a wide eyed missionary speaking to an African Muslim about the word of Christ would not have filled me with an implacable anger. Indeed, I would have regarded it as a mostly harmless act. But the Christian faith has begotten something vile and dangerous in Uganda, and for better or worse I can no longer say the same.
Williams’ film carefully constructs a critique of the missionary movement in Uganda using close access to a Christian organization called the International House of Prayer, or IHOP, and personal interviews with prominent Ugandan citizens. It is through the damning interviews with evangelicals, however, that we learn the most important principle facts of the documentary.
The consequences of this movement are likely several fold, reaching further than a documentary can expect to explain. For the purposes of God Loves Uganda though, the negative impact of adopted conservative Christian ideologies revolves around a repressed attitude toward sexuality.
Williams’ film does not have to work hard to raise ire, because the current landscape of prejudice in our country finds an almost elegant magnification in Uganda. Here, evangelicals take advantage of a country lacking a means of filtering their message, where even the most radical preachers can find traction where none exists in the States.
If readers were to go looking for a contemporary to God Loves Uganda, the closest may be the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp, which raises similar questions. Unlike Jesus Camp though, in God Loves Uganda the endgame of a youth based Christian indoctrination is stripped bare, and the animosity wrought in God’s name reveals itself. Some may feel the film decries the outrage in Uganda too forcefully, that it polarizes the audience into those who already feel one way or another, and lacks the ability to sway hearts and minds. For me, this would be a misread of the film. It is important to maintain a measured, rational voice in regards to religion but you had better make sure your voice is loud. Otherwise, your words just will not carry.
- Jacob Mertens, Film International
“A Powerful Profile Of Religiously Fueled Intolerance”
- Kevin Jagernauth, IndieWire/The Playlist
What Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams presents in his documentary “God Loves Uganda” is a unique, disturbing case of what could arguably be called spiritual exploitation. A country still finding its footing after decades of dictatorial and military rule, and continuing to try and embrace democracy even as corruption runs rampant, Uganda is fertile ground for anyone hoping to influence a vulnerable public.
(…) As you might imagine, Williams’ film is as frequently upsetting as it is fascinating, but it’s not without its share of heroes fighting the tide. Kaoma is certainly one, who continues his research in Boston, while Ugandan priest Christopher Senyonjo continues to speak out for the human rights of LGBT people, an act that has left the former bishop excommunicated. Their bravery makes the contrast to young believers and missionaries such as Jesse and Rachelle Digges all the more defined. Their well-meaning work is also blindingly oblivious, while skirting culturally insensitive at times. Living mostly on a compound of likeminded individuals and training them to spread the good word in Uganda, the machinery of their operation is, unsurprisingly, rather soulless.
Running a tight 80-odd minutes, Williams’ documentary is as concise as it is affecting and powerful, but he leaves just enough room for some indirect hits at some of the more loathsome subjects of the documentary. There is an unspoken emphasis that there is tremendous financial gain to be found in this systemic oppression of gays and lesbians, underscored by the quiet reveal that mansion-owning and influential Ugandan minister Robert Kanyaja, is also one of the five wealthiest people in the country. And the film’s closing shot of an elderly, rural Ugandan woman’s distrustful eyes taking in the eager words of a new missionary, ends the movie on an appropriately sardonic note. When you can’t weep, you can only laugh and shake your head. “God Loves Uganda” surely, but the people in power aren’t actually preaching his word.
- Kevin Jagernauth, IndieWire/The Playlist
“A searing look at the role of American evangelical missionaries in the persecution of gay Africans”
– Jeanette Catsoulis
The New York Times
NY Times CRITIC’S PICK
With nearly half its population under the age of 15 — a fertile source of unclaimed souls — Uganda is particularly attractive to missionaries. But saving them comes with a price, as we learn from Gospel messages liberally seasoned with antigay rhetoric and fundamentalist support for a bill that would institute the death penalty for repeat homosexual offenders.
Delving into a political framework that ties United States financing of H.I.V. relief efforts to a radical Christian moral agenda, Mr. Williams uses interviews and hidden-camera footage to expose the egotism, avarice and ignorance that undermine more laudable intentions. There is much here to sicken, including a frothing Ugandan pastor presenting an S-and-M video to his flock as a benchmark of gay behavior, and the powder-keg funeral of David Kato, a gay rights advocate who was fatally beaten with a hammer during filming.
But the terrifying consequences of using the Bible to inspire homophobia seem of no concern to the missionaries of the Missouri-based International House of Prayer, whose speaking-in-tongues fanaticism virtually drowns out the film’s more rational religious representatives. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: with so many extremists on hand, Mr. Williams has no need for narration. He simply stands back and allows his most deluded interviewees to fashion their own nooses.
– Jeanette Catsoulis
The New York Times
“Startling … Strong, head-shaking stuff”
Roger Ross Williams’ forceful polemic succeeds to a startling degree, rightly decrying the use of the gospel to incite homophobia, and allowing the most fervent interviewees to damn themselves with their own proselytizing words. It’s strong, head-shaking stuff…
Williams’ argument is made … effectively by the fervent Christian leaders he interviews, chiefly IHOP senior leader Lou Engle and Uganda-based missionary Joanna Watson, both of whom make revealing, humanizing personal admissions amid their otherwise relentless stream of fire-and-brimstone rhetoric.
Young members of the org’s mission team in Uganda come off as well-intentioned yet also hopelessly naive, callous in their belief in the superiority of Western conservative values, and unable to connect with the local culture. The docu’s funniest scene finds them trying to evangelize to the food vendors who swarm their van; it’s a remarkably absurdist image of Western imperialism condescending to the Third World, each side trying to sell something to the other.
…the film focuses its attack not on Christian belief per se, but rather on the movement’s overreaching, sexually repressive agendas.
- Justin Chang, Variety
“Inspiring, chilling and disturbing”
- The Wrap
Remember when tobacco companies started stepping up their marketing in the third world because their former customer base became much less interested in their toxic product? The same thing is happening with U.S. evangelical churches and their rabid strain of aggressive homophobia.
… Director Roger Ross Williams (director of the Oscar-winning short “Music by Prudence”) connects the dots between the virulent anti-gay politics in contemporary Uganda and the U.S. churches that are exporting their fringe views to the country in the guise of charity and mission work. (The Ugandan pastor of one of the affiliated churches is now, not coincidentally, one of the nation’s richest men.)
… And lest the movie be accused of religion-bashing, we hear from several pro-gay Ugandan clergy who have faced excommunication and exile because of their liberal views.
- Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
- LA Weekly
Kudos to the filmmakers for so adeptly laying out the history of American evangelicals’ Ugandan mission, and for noting that HIV infection rates there have gone up since the abstinence-only education started.
-Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
“Simply but effectively presented, this is a haunting documentary focusing on the power grab behind the human tragedy.”
- Eye for Film
“An eye-opening story that seriously leaves you thinking about what kind of outcome a person’s words have on society.”
- Susan Kamyab, Red Carpet Crash
(Roger Ross Williams) does a magnificent job capturing a realistic portrait of these evangelists and reverends, as they clearly have no problem being shed in a bad light. These people are just being themselves and truly believe what they are saying and preaching is completely normal without any consequences. Williams succeeds in delivering a clear message of how the extremists forcing anti-homosexual views to a vulnerable country can expand to others causing a dangerous effect.
I praise Williams immensely for shooting this documentary. It could not have been easy for him to sit through some of these interviews and hateful sermons. At times it was too uncomfortable for me to see such close-minded people trying to do good, when in reality they were causing more harm. I will hold my tongue on my opinion of the actual topic at hand and try to stay objective. God Loves Uganda is an eye-opening story that seriously leaves you thinking about what kind of outcome a person’s words can have on society.
- Susan Kamyab, Red Carpet Crash
“Williams is to be commended not only for his filmmaking skill, but also for pulling back the curtain on a most disturbing situation.”
- The Hollywood Reporter
Roger Ross Williams’ eye-opening documentary follows evangelicals who travel to Uganda to convert souls and demonize gays.
On the surface, building schools and hospitals might seem like a positive thing, but the equation is infinitely more complicated. The money for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention pouring into the country from the U.S. is tied to a policy of abstinence, which has become the official policy of the Uganda government, with a proposed bill that would make homosexuality illegal and punishable by death.
Moving back and forth between scenes in Kansas City and Uganda, editors Richard Hankin and Benjamin Gray weave the divergent material together into a compelling portrait of a volatile situation that is, at heart, fueled and financed by American cultural wars.
Surely not all Christian efforts in Uganda are reprehensible. But Williams is to be commended not only for his filmmaking skill, but also for pulling back the curtain on a most disturbing situation.
- James Greenberg, The Hollywood Reporter
“An extraordinairy, excellent film”
– Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC
“One effective sequence after another carries the alarming sensation of ideological chaos without resorting to technical trickery.”
– Andrew Lapin, The Dissolve
One of the most effective things director Roger Ross Williams does with his gripping, urgent, and often horrifying documentary is to show that these young believers—most of them teenagers—are human, teach what they have been taught, and ultimately think they’re doing the right thing. It’s the message, not the medium, that’s cause for alarm.
(…) The editing in this documentary, by Benjamin Gray and Richard Hankin (who also receive co-writing credit), is superb. One effective sequence after another—like a Ugandan pastor who shows gay porn to his congregation in order to incite them to support the bill—carries the alarming sensation of ideological chaos without resorting to technical trickery.
Williams, who won an Oscar for the 2010 documentary short “Music By Prudence,” paints a vivid picture of the Ugandans on the receiving end of all this faith. He makes time for the pastor of the country’s largest church, who lives in a giant mansion and dines on fine food, as well as the Kampala street preachers who rant at traffic for hours on end. But Williams really garners sympathy, rather than simply encouraging viewers to gawk at bizarre religious fervor, when he talks to the country’s gay population and LGBT rights activists, victims of an acid homophobic climate where their faces are printed in tabloids next to the words “Hang Them.” At the time of filming, Uganda’s gay community was reeling from the 2011 murder of gay-rights activist David Kato, and Williams shows devastating footage of his funeral, with friends sobbing, “Everybody is going to start killing us.”
Williams’s most damning conclusion hovers silently at the fringes of the film, there to alarm anyone who practices any form of Christianity. It is IHOP’s fundamentally un-Christian branding of the faith—the brand that peddles intolerance and doesn’t speak out on behalf of the persecuted and oppressed—whose seeds are being sowed in Uganda’s future.
- Andrew Lapin, The Dissolve
With no traps or tricks, the House of Prayer members and their Ugandan counterparts freely and righteously share their hateful views about homosexuality and sexuality in general – in a country hit hard by HIV, the group also promotes abstinence as the main prevention of STDs (a stance the Ugandan government has also taken), and calls for the overall ban of condoms.
God Loves Uganda is a fascinating but emotionally overwhelming film. Exploring the intersection between race, class, and religion, it does well in tackling the little-discussed issue of LGBT rights in Africa. It’s impossible not to view the situation Williams displays through the prism of racism and new colonialism. It’s an unsettling sort of deja vu: watching these white missionaries arrive on African shores, bearing a warped version Christianity, both saviors and oppressors.
- Zeba Blay, IndieWire
“Chilling. A real eye-opener.”
– Amy Cheney, Film Forward
The idea that American missionaries are naive, harmless, misguided or any other innocuous adjective will be put to permanent rest after seeing this chilling documentary by Roger Ross Williams (director of the Oscar-winning short “Music by Prudence”). His film convincingly reveals how American megachurches are directly responsible for the vitriolic attacks on LGBTI people (as individuals and as a class) in Uganda, funding preachers (a pastor of one of the affiliated churches is now one of the nation’s richest men) and young people to carry out their toxic message.
God Loves Uganda takes the evangelists portrayed in the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp to an entirely different and horrifying level, for Jesus Camp focuses on the U.S., with its overriding laws and culture offering a check and balance and allowing viewers to imagine the film’s subjects as a small subset of the population. God Loves Uganda shatters this illusion.
- Amy Cheney, Film Forward