God Loves Uganda - A Documentary Worth Seeing

Director & producer Roger Ross Williams
Photo Credit: Marc Yankus
Roger Ross Williams's curiosity about people who hate him led to his three-year project as director and producer of the soon-to-be-released documentary film, God Loves Uganda. The result of his journey is a revelation of the connection between the Christian evangelical movement in the United States and Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill which would make homosexuality punishable by death. Roger Williams is openly gay, although he was not open about this while filming in Uganda.

His background laid the foundation for this curiosity. He grew up in a black Baptist church and sang in the choir, his father was a religious leader and his sister is a pastor. But, he says,
For all that the church gave me, for all that it represented belonging, love and community, it also shut its doors to me as a gay person. That experience left me with the lifelong desire to explore the power of religion to transform lives or destroy them.

For the filming, Williams and his team followed the International House of Prayer (IHOP, but no relation to the restaurant chain) proselytizers from the U.S. to Uganda. Through the camera we see young people from the IHOP plan and pray as they prepare to go on a religious adventure to teach Ugandans the Bible and to persuade them to accept Jesus. Evangelists believe in their mission as do many Americans who pour contributions into missionary work there.

Last night I saw a screening of God Loves Uganda at the Maryland Institute College of Art's Brown Center as part of a series of events, a partnership between the Maryland Film Festival and the local public radio station WYPR's Spotlight Series. As I watched the story unfold on the screen, this story of missionaries in Africa, some childhood memories flashed in my mind.

In my early life, I was a faithful member of our neighborhood's Trinity Evangelical United Brethren Church, which preached the joy of spreading God's word. We thought we had important answers and that we were saved by our faith; it was God's will and our duty to spread the word to poor enlightened souls in Africa and other parts of the world. Some of the money in the collection plate passed around every Sunday went to help our missionaries.

As a child, the first hint I had of something askew was a story I heard of bras sent to missionaries in Africa so that the indecent bare-chested women could cover up. The African women, happy to receive these presents, began to wear the bras around their waists as purses and to use the cups as pockets to carry items.

Trinity Evangelical United Brethren Church in Baltimore
The second hint I had that things were not as I had perceived was when I was twelve. At a Sunday service, we had a guest preacher, an African missionary. My church and school were not integrated and I had recently read a story about David Livingston in Africa, so I was especially curious about this guest. I was living in a neighborhood fearful of blockbusting tactics beginning in Baltimore--tactics by greedy real estate speculators who used bigotry to profit. This particular Sunday, I listened closely to the sermon given by a "colored" man in my white church. Even at the age of twelve, I recognized that he was a dynamic speaker who had much to say. This is why I was surprised to hear parishioners grumbling to one another as they left at the end of the service, "What makes him think he can tell us something?" Even as a child, I understood the translation: "What makes a Negro think he can come into our church and talk to us white people as an authority figure?"

These memories came back to me as I watched God Loves Uganda and as I saw the enthusiastic young people preach to Africans about how they were not living an acceptable life and how they needed to change their beliefs.

The sinister part, however, is how evangelists use the Bible to show what they believe to be the evilness of homosexuality: homosexuals have a "choice" and if they accept Christ and stop their sinful life style, then they can go to heaven. This has grown to become a them and us thing which has led to shunning, hating and legislation in Uganda's parliament to make homosexuality a crime, punishable by life imprisonment or death. David Kato, a Ugandan gay activist who was interviewed by the filmmaker, was bludgeoned to death before the project was completed. There are powerful  scenes of his funeral in the movie.

Pastor Scott Lively also appears in the film. An American author and activist who takes credit for inspiring Russia's anti-gay laws, Lively testified in the Ugandan parliament and helped inspire Uganda's "Kill the Gays" Bill.   He has been sued in U.S. Federal Court by the organization Sexual Minorities of Uganda alleging that he incited persecution, torture and murder of gays and lesbians in Uganda.

International House of Prayer meeting in Kampala, Uganda. Photo Credit: Roger Ross Williams

This film goes much deeper than my brief introduction here. It shows how American dollars are tied in with the evangelist movement and how rich some of the African clergy are because of it. We see how a religion that is supposed to be spreading love is instead spreading hatred with calls for murder. We see self-righteous, well-meaning young people trying to change a culture. Uganda had one of the highest AIDS rates until a successful condom campaign began to turn things around. Then the religious right in America started preaching abstinence as the only way and the funding options on this distant continent took a turn. Condoms were not needed--only abstinence. God would help people be strong, help them to abstain. The AIDS rate then sky-rocketed again. American missionaries teach children to read in the schools they create and to heal those who are sick in the hospitals they build but they also promote dangerous religious bigotry.

The film's press kit says it succinctly: 
As an American influenced bill to make homosexuality punishable by death wins widespread support, tension in Uganda mounts and an atmosphere of murderous hatred takes hold. The film reveals the conflicting motives of faith and greed, ecstasy and egotism, among Ugandan ministers, American evangelical leaders and the foot soldiers of a theology that sees Uganda as a test case, ground zero in a battle not for millions, but billions of souls.

After the film last night, soft-spoken Roger Ross Williams was interviewed by Tom Hall for a future radio segment on WYPR radio. Afterward, the audience had a chance to ask questions. I was engrossed in both the documentary and what Williams had to say after the screening. The interview will appear sometime soon on WYPR. (Tom Hall is arts and culture editor for Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on 88.1 FM between 9 and 10 a.m. weekdays.)

God Loves Uganda will be opening across the country in October. It is paced beautifully through the photography and editing, allowing not narration but the participants to reveal the truth to us. It is a must-see documentary that  will make you question your religious perceptions.

Watch the film trailer:



Read more on the film's website: www.godlovesuganda.com

Uganda

Find it on the map.


Some facts:

  • Population: 34.5 million (2010)
  •  Area: 93,072 square miles, about the size of Oregon
  • Official languages: English and Swahili
  • Life expectancy: 54 years men, 55 years women (2010)
  • Fifty percent of the population is under 15-years-old.

LGBT rights around the world:

  • 78 countries have legislation that persecutes people on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Homosexuality is a criminal offense in 85 countries.
  • In 7 countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.
  • In 113 countries, homosexuality and homosexual acts are legal.
  • In 2011, 85 countries signed a United Nations Declaration to decriminalize homosexuality.
  • In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed the first resolution on LGBT rights, condemning homophobic discrimination, violence and hate crimes.









The Smart and Stupid of Everyday Design...

... few minutes with Andy Rooney Bonnie Schupp

Frustration with poor container design

Everyday design matters but why do I have a feeling that designers never use the products they designed the packaging for?  I understood this when I had very bad menstrual cramps plus a raging headache and I tried to extrude two Midol pills to help me maintain sanity. By the time I actually removed the double wrapping and struggled with the "child-proof" (and PMS-woman-proof) cap, my headache had escalated to an erupting volcano. I understand the need for tamper-proof packaging but, really--when the consumer cannot access or use the product without a great deal of frustration, something is wrong.

Recently I bought liquid Dove soap in a 24-oz. bottle to use in the shower. What were the designers of the container thinking of?  Merely the bottle size and weight presented a problem for my female-size hands, but just let the smooth plastic bottle become wet and it becomes like a greased pig as it slips through my hand and lands with a thud at my feet, nearly breaking my toe and almost chipping the enamel tub, not to mention the challenge for me to bend over to retrieve it. I will not buy this product again.

A smooth container for a product to be used in the shower? What were they thinking? For sure, the bottle designers did not try to use it in the shower.

More bathroom design considerations

Let's look at toothpaste tubes. Most now have large caps for easy grabbing and twisting. Some have flip-up caps which I find cumbersome but it does eliminate the problem of trying to find the top someone else left on the counter ... somewhere. I find the Sensodyne cap the easiest to use. It looks like an ordinary screw cap but it isn't. I don't have to twist it numerous times to get the cap off. Twist one click and it is off; twist one click to put it back on. 

 It now appears to be standard for cream tubes to have a foil protecting the end once the cap is removed but look at the top part of the cap, turn it around and use the center to puncture the protective foil. This is excellent design. Brilliant actually. I don't have to struggle to get to the product because my tool is part of the packaging.


Even the way powder products are packaged makes a difference. On the left, compare the shape of Oral B and Sinus Rinse. You would think shape would not matter. However, it does when you try to shake the powder to the bottom of the package so you can open the other end and pour to mix with water. The long rectangular package works best. I tap it against the counter once or twice and the powder easily moves to the end. When I do the same with the wider package, it does not move so easily. This might have something to do with physics but all I know is that I like to do some things quickly and easily and this packaging makes a lot of difference.

Miracle Whip jar is no miracle

Another pet peeve I have is the protective seal for my chewy vitamins and my mayonnaise. Much as I like Miracle Whip for my tuna salad, trying to get through the protective seal reminds me of my Midol days. There is no finger tab to pull off the seal; it just does not come off easily. I have to use a knife and cut all the way around, leaving part of this seal on the rim of the jar. Sloppy. Messy. I am close to switching brands.

My Camry

Last year I bought a new Camry which has many good design features, even down to the remote key. These days most remotes and keys are combined as one piece rather than the old style of separate key and remove. The Camry is no exception. Whoever thought of combining the two was probably a designer who kept losing either the key or the remote and who could never find them together.

My Camry key goes a little further and uses common sense in multi-sensory features such as sound. I press the lock button and I hear one beep, two for open. This makes so much sense when you consider the syllables in the words open and close...two beeps for the two-syllable command and one beep for the one-syllable command. Even if, in your head, you say instead the words unlock and lock, it still works. When I lock my car, I listen for the one beep to confirm that I have not pushed the wrong button, leaving my car vulnerable to theft.

However, the Camry designers did not do as well with the dashboard readout for tire pressure. It displays a readout of four horizontal tires with the pressure for each one underneath. This is confusing. How does this positioning relate to the tires on the car? Not at all. How difficult would it have been to arrange the display in a four-corner configuration the way the tires are on the car? That way I would know exactly which tire needs air.

Unreadable

Some things just do not make any sense at all. 

Why would anyone put information--sometimes important information--as black on black? I have seen this way too often on technology equipment. Usually I have to use a magnifier and flashlight to read whatever the consumer is supposed to read. The Toshiba phone cordless phone charger on the left is an example. The directions in the middle of the charger are unreadable.

On the topic of technology, I have trouble reading web sites with white font on a black screen. Granted, it is better than black on black, but for some reason, I cannot read these pages easily and I wind up leaving the web site. 

Since design has to do with usability and communication, this is the place to mention those people who TYPE IN ALL CAPS. First of all, tech etiquette defines this as yelling. Secondly, some people (me again) have trouble reading text that is all in caps. According to research, many people use the word shapes as reading clues and something written in all caps becomes a road block to reading comprehension.

Pouring

Now, we move to the basement area for more design examples. I have noticed that some liquid laundry detergents now have designed the pouring spout to prevent dripping. Great idea but kudos to the person who designed the container for my cat's kitty litter. That person must have some cats at home. Kitty litter is heavy and awkward when pouring into the litter box. Simple solution--design the container so it has one handle at the top for ease in carrying and another handle on the side to help with pouring. 

And did I mention how the modern clumping kitty litter is such an improvement over the "sand" thirty years ago?

A few scattered thoughts

I cannot tell you how many times I have struggled to turn my outdoor hose faucet on or off. Around and around goes the knob. Recently our neighbor installed a substitute for us--a lever rather than a knob. So easy...so simple...and so much better.

Multi-function buttons are confusing. Does anyone ever remember how many times to press the buttons on a digital watch, which combination of buttons to push and which ones need to be held in for two seconds?

This final example takes the prize for stupidity. On an elevator, I once saw the emergency button next to the open and close buttons. Honest!


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For more reading on everyday design, check out Donald Norman's book available on Amazon.



First, businesses discovered quality as a key competitive edge; next came service. Now, Donald A. Norman, former Director of the Institute for Cognitive Science at the University of California, reveals how smart design is the new competitive frontier. The Design of Everyday Things is a powerful primer on how--and why--some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them.