ActivismArtFilm / TVPoliticsSex & Gender

kenya’s ban on gay-friendly film temporarily lifted

September 27, 2018
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The story of Rafiki follows the budding love story of two Kenyan teenagers in a time of significant shift in both of their lives. At the center of Rafiki sits a simply stunning love story, but in the case of marginalized communities, the personal is inherently political. Kenyan politicians and anti-LGBTQ+ advocates campaigned to keep the movie out of Kenyan cinemas, but director Wanuri Kahiu took the ruling to court and got a judge to temporarily lift the ban for a week, making the film eligible for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Academy Awards.

The justification for having the movie kept out of Kenyan cinemas was that Rafiki “promoted lesbianism” through its positive depiction of a loving relationship between two women. The ban was temporarily lifted by Justice Wilfrida Okwany, who said in her ruling, “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film,” quoted Buzzfeed. That “moral foundation” was instilled and set by colonial law, so it is puzzling that an African country building its own legacy of “post-colonialism” would be willing to protect a law it inherited.

Rafiki is the first Kenyan movie to make it onto the Cannes Film Festival official selection in the festival’s 71-year history: that is the part of the story that should be making headlines. The African narrative is slowly but surely making its way onto the world stage, but unchecked inherited philosophies always eclipse the possible ideological development that Africans could be undertaking in our current times.

As was the case of the South African film, The Wound, the backdrop of homophobia in Rafiki mirrors the homophobia that serves as a barrier to each film’s release in Kenya and South Africa respectively. In both cases, we have to interrogate the damaging cultural mainstay’s that have little historical bearing in the traditions that were inhibited by colonialism.

Rafiki is a beautiful story that should be celebrated in its home country, but that absence of celebration has provided a space to place the African continent’s homophobia under a microscope. Rafiki screenings are being met with crowds and applause, so perhaps Kenyans are open to living in a country that is willing to consider actual Kenyans over the desire to maintain archaic notions of morality.