A decision by the Kenya Film Classification Board to ban a film which is the first-ever Kenyan entry nominated for an award at the Cannes Film Festival in France has been criticised.
Rafiki, a film by Wanuri Kahiu , is a love story of two teenage girls who develop a romance that’s opposed by their families and community. In the film, directed, written and co-produced by Ms Kahiu, the girls are separated by their communities.
“Unfortunately, our film has been censored in Kenya, because it deals with matters that are uncomfortable for the Kenya Film Classification Board,” she said.
The board’s CEO Ezekiel Mutua issued a statement, saying the movie’s depiction of homosexuality runs counter to the laws and the culture of Kenya.
“It is our considered view that the moral of the story in this film is to legitimise lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law,” the statement read in part.
“Homosexuality is a reality,” he said. “What we are against is the endeavour to show that as a way of life in Kenya.”
Ms Kahiu told the Sunday Nation that the film included several scenes of kissing and intimacy between the two girls. The board did not object to those, she said, but asked her to change the ending, which, she said, the board found “too hopeful”. She refused to.
The film was adapted from the short story Jambula Tree by Uganda’s Monica Arac de Nyeko, which was awarded the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing in 2007.
Ms Kahiu said her philosophy is to make hopeful, joyful films about Africa and it goes against her ethos to create work that goes against that identity.
“But I truly believe that an adult Kenyan audience is mature and discerning enough to be able to watch this film and have their own conversation,” she said.
She told the Sunday Nation in an earlier interview that they wanted to tell a modern African story based on modern African literature.
“I believe it takes all types of people to make a world, to make a country, to make a community. As storytellers, it is important to speak about the diverse and complicated stories of our society,” said Ms Kahiu.
According to her, Rafiki is a reflection of society, “but unfortunately, because the film has been banned, we’ll be unable to have these conversations”.
“Under the Constitution, we have the right to freedom of expression,” she said. “Nowhere does it say that the board has a right to deny that freedom.”
The ban comes as the High Court is reconsidering colonial-era laws discriminating against gays and lesbians. The board last year banned the Disney Channel’s Andi Mack after it was revealed that the show’s second season would feature a key character realising he’s gay.
It had earlier pressured South African pay TV, MultiChoice, to pull seven cartoons from the airwaves because of what Dr Mutua described as “retrogressive and bizarre messages intended to promote homosexual agenda”.
Just a week earlier, Dr Mutua, during an interview with a local radio station, praised Ms Kahiu’s talent comparing it to that of Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o.
The issue of gay rights in Kenya has lately been headline news, in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta stated that gay rights were “of no importance to the people of Kenya.”
The day before the ruling against Rafiki, Deputy President William Ruto, said in a nationally televised speech that privately watching films banned by the classification board is illegal, and he warned against discussing “illegal material.”
Ms Kahiu said the ban amounted to creative censorship and violated her constitutional rights.
“Under the Constitution, we have the right to freedom of expression,” she said. “Nowhere does it say that the Kenya Film Classification Board has a right to deny that freedom.”
But what has is puzzling is just a week earlier, Dr Mutua, during an interview with a local radio station praised the director’s talent comparing it to that of Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o.
He described Kahiu as a “goddess in the Kenyan film industry” whose work was unmatched adding that she had mentored fellow filmmakers.
Mutua during the same interview said he had a meeting with Kahiu and knew that her movie was telling the story of young Kenyans as it is.
“It’s (Rafiki) a story about the realities of our time and the challenges that our kids are facing especially with their sexuality and issues of homosexuality. It’s a story put in context that speaks about our reality and the challenges our kids are facing and we are trying to sweep it under the carpet and make it look like that it’s not happening or we react with shock and we forget it’s actually a reality,” said Mutua.
Kenya Film Commission have praised the film saying, “We’re proud to support Wanuri for being invited to screen the first ever Kenyan film in Cannes.”