Did you know that homosexuals are 19 times more likely to die in car crashes? Well, that’s what some homophobic yahoos in the Bahamas say.
The Bahamas has made headlines as one of the most homophobic countries in the world. In 2004, a Rosie O’Donnell cruise for gay families was greeted with religious protests. In 2005, a Bahamian beauty queen was denied her crown when it came out that she is a lesbian. Between 2007 and 2008, at least four gay men were murdered in the capital, Nassau. And in 2009, a man was acquitted for murdering an HIV-positive gay man because, he said, the victim came on to him.
“That’s the kind of world that I live in,” says gay film director Kareem Mortimer. “It’s a completely different world in the Caribbean in terms of being open and honest about your sexuality.”
Mortimer is making waves with his film Children of God, possibly the first gay-themed feature produced in the Bahamas. And he’s on his way to Toronto to attend its screening at the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival. Visually stunning, Children of God is a bittersweet story, born from the real-life hatred and fear that lurks in the islands.
“There are a lot of people in the closet who have two lives,” says Mortimer. “It is possible to live in a queer bubble in which you’re out, you’re proud…. And then when you see someone in the street the next day, you can’t acknowledge the fact that they’re queer.”
It was the succession of murders that galvanized Mortimer to make the film he did.
“I was really kind of shaken up by what was going on,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep and I was scared. I felt like I had a responsibility to reflect the reality that I was living in. We have different circumstances, but we’re all the same. I just want people to see that and relate to the film.”
Children of God is sumptuous and daring: an interracial, gay male couple fall in love despite a dangerously oppressive environment. The film follows Johnny (Johnny Ferro), a white art student who begins an affair with Romeo (Steven Tyrone Williams), a black athlete. Shot in only 24 days, the film’s setting was informed by Mortimer’s own romantic experience a few years ago on the island of Eleuthera.
Children of God embodies a darkness that evokes memories of earlier queer films of the same ilk like The Children’s Hour and Victim.
“I just wanted something that left a longer impression on an audience,” he says, adding that the screening at the Bahamas Film Festival had special importance. “These horrible things had happened, and I wanted people to see the humanity in this character and what happened to him and feel a sort of guilt or shame about what happened in their own community.”
He and the actors developed a special understanding of the film’s content.
“We just knew the story,” he says. “We all felt responsible for it, we all loved it. It definitely wasn’t about the money. It was about we can make something special and we all wanted to.”
No doubt this film will speak to many, simply for its portrayal of lives not rarely given screen time.
“It’s just one aspect of Bahamian life that we really need to work on,” says Mortimer. “The rest: people are very nice here. I love this country, and I’m prepared to do my part to help make it better. I think it will get better — it has to.”