Christian Majority Kenya Bans Acclaimed Lesbian Movie

Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva in Rafiki
Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva play the film’s young lovers, Kena and Ziki


“The director of the first Kenyan film to debut at Cannes has said she is “incredibly sad” her film cannot legally be seen in her home country.

“We truly hoped the Kenya Film Classification Board [KFCB] would respect our right as creators to express ourselves,” said Wanuri Kahiu.

The KFCB banned Rafiki – “friend” in Swahili – due to its lesbian storyline.

Kahiu said she was “disappointed” by the decision, despite it drawing international attention to her film.

Set in Nairobi, Rafiki tells the coming-of-age story of two young women, Kena and Ziki, who meet and fall in love.

Their romance unfolds against a backdrop of homophobia and intolerance in a country where homosexuality is outlawed.

The film is based on Jambula Tree, a prize-winning short story by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko.

Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia with director Wanuri Kahiu
Kahiu (right) said her film was “made by Kenyans for Kenyans”

Speaking on Friday at the Cannes Film Festival, Kahiu said the ban had ultimately been counterproductive.

“Censorship actually brings more attention to a project than anything else,” she told the BBC.

“But this film was made by Kenyans for Kenyans. No-one else will understand the nuances, the language, the landscape and the behaviour as much as Kenyans will.

“So while the ban has brought extra support and publicity, I would take a Kenyan audience watching the film over that.”

‘Hiding in the shadows’

The High Court in Kenya is due to announce a judgement this year on whether it will remove sections of its penal code that criminalise homosexuality.

“Carnal knowledge against the order of nature” can currently bring a sentence of up to 14 years in jail.

“So many people hide in the shadows because it is illegal for them to exist as they are,” said Sheila Munyiva, who plays Ziki in the film.

“The script made me feel incredibly privileged and I knew I had to tell this story.”

Rafiki, which has yet to get a UK release date, played in Cannes this week as part of the festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar.

The 71st Cannes Film Festival continues in the south of France until 19 May.”

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