Friday, June 18, 2010

The Revealed Truth Part 2: Cross Culture Shock

The crowd gathers as the play gets going.  Not many people can afford cars, but many have bicycles.  This is a parking lot for them and the kid in the suit on the left is the valet.  The bags slung over the bikes are for collecting corn, bananas, or firewood.  After the show, the audience will peddle back into the fields to harvest their crops as the sun goes down and it's not so hot.  The generator in the foreground powers the sound system.  The speakers were so loud that the play could be heard from miles around.  This was not unusual for the village.  Ugandans love blasting music, public service announcements, and sermons over their P.A. systems at all times of the day and night.

Part 2 of The Revealed Truth opens up with a shot of the Kiwangala playground.  That's my neighbor Vieney and his sister clowning around.  The playground plays host to soccer matches, concerts, religious services, and once on Christmas there was a motocross rally.  On slow days cattle graze the field.

One thing that I've never understood is why Jesus speaks into a microphone.  It's not plugged in.  A CD of the audio I recorded is playing on the speakers.  The actor playing Jesus is just mouthing the words.  Nevertheless, he carries the microphone all the way up to the cross, stopping like a talk show host to to interview saints and sinners along the way.

I remember going out one night in Masaka, the city closest to Kiwangala, to watch some karaoke.  In Uganda you don't get up to sing something embarrassing, you let the professional entertainers handle that.  The music came on and performers gave it all they got with choreographed dance moves.  It was high energy, but it was also Milly Vanilli.  The singers lip-sync into turned-off microphones.  False advertising or not that was their style.  Th microphone is an aesthetic prop that makes The Revealed Truth just a long karaoke number. 

Something else that perplexes me in this bit is when the disciples gather fruit from the trees on the Sabbath.  The actors reach up into the branches and pull out a loaf of bread.  Why not fruit?  Uganda is a garden of Eden for tropical fruit.  It grows everywhere in abundance.  Ugandan bread, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about.  It's bland and, because the nearest bakery is 40 km away, often stale.  However, while most fruit is cheap or even free, you've got to have cash to buy a loaf of bread.  In some circles of village society it's a sign of wealth.  When a guest comes over for morning tea the hospitable thing to do is offer them a few slices of bread spread with Blueband margarine.  While the first appearance of bread is odd, it's a theme that naturally weaves itself throughout the play up to the Last Supper.   It's just bizarre watching it from a Western perspective where the value system is reversed.  If you walked into an American supermarket and bought a pineapple it'd be twice the cost of a loaf of Wonderbread.          

Another surprising sight in the movie are the two men walking into the bushes holding hands.  Like many agricultural societies, Uganda is conservative in its behaviors.  PDA between couples raises eyebrows.  Outside of Kampala, kissing and hugging are never seen.  A man and a woman holding hands insinuates that they have carnal knowledge of each other.  Hand holding between members of the same sex however is acceptable and common.  It's a show of fraternal goodwill, but it would make me do a double take when I passed by two burly biker dudes or a couple of coeds on their way to campus.  Often when I'd meet a man and shake his hand a game would start to see how long we could hold onto each other.  This makes introductions long and leaves you with sweaty palms, but also builds trust and rapport.

Nobody sees this behavior as gay because in Uganda homosexuality is illegal.  Earlier this year the parliament attempted to pass a bill that would give convicted homosexuals the death penalty.  It has been said that American evangelists lobbied parliament to put the bill into place.  Luckily, it caught the attention of the international community who threatened to withdraw humanitarian aid if the law was passed.  The MPs have since backed down, but the homophobic sentiment remains.  It's ironic that the camera captured Jesus and the two men in the same frame.

The Revealed Truth Blog Series

This post is the third of a nine part series that takes an in-depth look at the The Revealed Truth and how rural Ugandan culture influenced the making of the film.  The  movie is about an hour  long  but I've broken it down into 5 to 10 minute blog-size episodes.  The next post will feature the Nicodemus.

The previous post was The Revealed Truth Part 1: Shepherds and Fishermen