Wanjeri Gakuru is a freelance journalist, essayist and film-maker. She was selected as the 2018 Literary Ambassador for Nairobi by Panorama: The
Journal of Intelligent Travel. Wanjeri is also a member of Pan-African writers’ collective, Jalada Africa.
1. Why was last year such a good year for you?
Between a reality TV show host gaining access to nuclear codes and Kenyan courts nullifying a Presidential election, I’d say it was a bizarre year filled with unimagined possibilities.
In my case, we’d been planning Africa’s first mobile literary and arts festival (Jalada Festival) for two years before we set off in March for a 28-day trip across five countries.
That opened doors to participate in other festivals in the UK and Edinburgh. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I got on the writing team for my first feature film, Supa Modo, and got commissioned to write a short film, Paukwa.
2. Is this what you’ve always wanted to do, and how did you prepare for it?
I’ve always loved storytelling in its varied forms. Through a combination of curiosity, opportunity and poetry, I have tried my hand at a lot of different writing genres. Thankfully, I have found success in a few of them.
The best preparation is asking those assigning the work a lot of questions and close reading of similar text and other resource materials. For instance, to understand screen-writing better, I would put a film and its script in PDF format on a split screen on my laptop and both listen and read to examine form, structure and vocabulary.
3. There’ve been a lot of sexual assault allegations, both in the local industry and across the world’s film stage. Do you think it is the place or responsibility for directors, producers, and even writers, to comment on that?
Absolutely. We should use any privileges we possess to fight injustice and discrimination. There’s an Igbo proverb that says: ‘when one slave sees another cast into a shallow grave he should know that when the day comes he will go the same way’. No one is safe until we are all safe.
There have been calls to boycott these artists and their works and in some cases the accused have even faced criminal charges.
These are good steps in dispelling the silence around sexual assault and bringing a measure of justice to the survivors. Could this call-out culture be abused? Yes. People can have agendas but the truth always comes out.
4. What film, or story, would you most like to write?
I’m interested in our special Kenyan-isms and Nairobi-isms. Broadly, I am interested in memory, loss and taboo as themes. I also like to question gender parity and celebrate female success.
5. Why do you think Kenyans are so intensely moralistic about film choices, for example in terms of censorship, and don’t apply this same morality to, say, pirating of films or corruption?
We’ve cultivated an obstinate public self that refuses to be compassionate. We use our culture and religion to oppress others and spread harmful ideas that affect real people. Yet in private, we know that we all suffer the same.
When the price of milk, bread and unga goes up, our roads erode away and billions are stolen; we all suffer. That’s what we should focus on.