Until a couple of hours ago when a friend on another forum brought him to my attention, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who David Cecil was. Before you engage in any hasty conjecture, no, he is not Cecil Rhodes and he certainly didn’t give Zimbabwe its colonial name.
Once the name appeared on my radar, I did a little, non-representative survey on Google and Yahoo search. Everything of import that you will find written about David Cecil relates to a play, The River and the Mountain, that he staged ostensibly to highlight the terrible existence gay men and lesbians suffer in Uganda. It was banned by the authorities after a couple of productions and Cecil was thrown into jail for a few days for ‘promoting homosexuality.’
Really? A dramatic director capable of shaking up governments in Africa is only known worldwide for one play? I found that hard to fathom so I tried checking around for Cecil’s body of work. All I can come up with is that he is associated with Tilapia Culture, a bar cum night spot, in Uganda. He is widely cited as a theater producer but I failed to find any other theater he has produced other than the gay stage production that landed him in jail and all over the front pages of the international media.
I have been to the Tilapia Culture once and I thought it a rather nice place to relax. Other than being oddly and inexplicably called Tilapia, it had the sort of artsy, bohemian, atmosphere that I found rather alluring. I don’t recall if David Ceil was there when I visited but there was a dreadlocked, inscrutable, barman who had me thinking ungodly thoughts.
So, it seems as though until he staged The River and the Mountain David Cecil was not known in Uganda or anywhere else for much else. Nothing terribly remarkable thus far, and in fact one could argue that Cecil has done better than most people in this world. I have never put on a theatrical production in Uganda and have never been arrested in a blaze of publicity either.
What got me wondering was something tangential but intriguing. In the link provided, the actors in the now banned gay play seem to have conflicting views about how useful the play was.
‘I question the effectiveness of discussing homosexuality the way we did,’ [Nanfuka] told Radio Netherlands. … ‘I am not sure anymore if the people to whom we are preaching, are interested in change at all.’ The 26-year-old actress added that she thinks the play ‘has only alienated Ugandans further from homosexuals.’
But co-star Okuyo Joel Atiku ‘Prynce’ insists he would play the role of a gay factory worker again despite all the responses he received being negative. ‘I partook in the play because of the artistic challenge and to drive debate, to make people realize that gay people are part of society too,’ the 28-year-old told the Dutch radio station.
The question for the David Cecils of this world thus has to be: If you haven’t convinced your own cast about the value of the production they are taking part in, how do you hope to convince the wider audience that what you are doing is worthwhile? With such discordance, did Cecil really do his homework before embarking on this production? Who did he consult with? What advice was he given as to whether such a play would foster understanding (or debate) between the gay community and the rest of Uganda?
In this case Cecil’s play seems to have made him more known around the world than the play itself or the cause for which it was intended. A few weeks after it was staged, and banned, hardly anyone in Uganda is talking about the play. But a lot of people worldwide have certainly talked about David Cecil, yours truly inclusive.
Was that the intention? If so, it was all not in vain then.
- Uganda frees British producer over gay play
- British theatre producer says gay Uganda play ‘was supposed to be funny’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Banned play “only made things worse for gays”
- What form should gay activism take?