I first knew America when sons still called their fathers Sir.
How much America has changed in the years I have known it.
For me the taste of America is still a grilled cheese sandwich or a salt beef on rye or the sour coffee in old-fashioned diners, or a Thanksgiving dinner with the big turkey and mashed potato and butternut squash and pumpkin pie to follow.
Mikey wants me to meet his agent. That’s why we are waiting outside heavy dark green wrought iron gates through which I can see the complex of white buildings off to the left, while in front is a series of pools bordered by trimmed box hedges leading to a fountain and a cupola.
As we settle into the meeting, Mikey and Jared are joking with him – “Hey, Larry, peacemaking again?” one says. Larry smiles ruefully. “I’ll tell you later,” Mikey says to me, aside.
Mikey and Jared have an independent film project, which they want to start pitching. They liked the film called The Last King of Scotland and a French documentary called Darwin’s Nightmare. It made them want to shoot something in Africa.
I’m there to give credibility, as they say, because of my experience as a journalist. They think I could be useful as an advisor.
The film is based on the true story of David Kato, a gay activist from Uganda, who was murdered last year. In Uganda, as elsewhere in Africa, homosexuality is illegal.
Here’s the scenario: Uganda is a country with a strong Christian tradition. David Kato, after working in South Africa for a while, returns to Uganda and starts to campaign for gay rights. There is opposition. A group of American fundamentalist preachers visit Uganda and praise its strong stand on gays. One of them is a black preacher who calls himself a reformed homosexual.
As a result, the hate campaign intensifies. A newspaper names a hundred prominent gays under the headline Hang Them. A new, even tougher law is drafted, which imposes a death penalty on active gays. David and his friends have a narrow escape from a human rights conference when they learn they are going to be arrested as they leave.
David Kato goes into hiding. But he has a Judas, a gay who betrays him. He is murdered by thugs. The government claims it is just a robbery.
“Who are we invested in?” asks Larry, “ that’s the question. Is it David Kato himself? But he’s dead by the end. There’s no resolution. Does the law get changed?”
Jared shakes his head.
“What’s the Act 3 closer? I don’t see where we end here.”
There’s a long pause.
“Hey”, says Mikey, “I’m just thinking. I heard this great audio from a Ugandan girl who knew she was really a guy and she describes all the things she did like hitting her boobies to stop them growing and eating special herbs and stuff. We could get her out of there, and back to the States where she gets the operation, and then we see her transformed into a guy and she carries on the struggle.”
“Wow”, says Jared. “Could be our first trans-gender protag!”
Larry narrows his eyes as if he is thinking. “Let me get you a writer”, he says.
I’m pretty sure Larry doesn’t give it much of a chance. But then his big interest is in Mikey’s sitcom earnings.
When we leave, Mikey explains. Larry comes from a family of eight that originally emigrated from Palestine in the 1960s, arriving with nothing. Two of his brothers, after college, went in to the buyout business and learned it really well. Now they are both billionaires with famous private equity firms. But they remain huge rivals and not so long ago one of the wives had an affair with the other brother. Larry called a family meeting and told them it had to stop and the news of this got into the papers.
What an American story though.
For me, memories of Uganda are of horrible brutality under Idi Amin, the civil war that followed, and the devastation of the first Aids epidemic. Uganda’s ABC campaign – Abstain, Be Faithful, Use Condoms – was thought to be behind the exceptional drop in Aids incidence in Uganda.
Now we have millions of US dollars going into the gay liberation movement in Uganda and millions more, from the religious right, promoting the abstinence movement but opposing the promotion of condoms because they “encourage promiscuity”!
What a mess.