Two years after coming out, the Kenyan drama Rafiki will still not be granted permission for a public screening as the government contends that the film’s storytelling of a lesbian relationship causes “moral decay”.
On Wednesday April 29, the high court in Nairobi ruled in support of the 2018 ban that had been pronounced by the Kenyan Film Classification Board on Rafiki. The court ruling was a dismissal of the petition that had been brought before it by Wanuri Kahiu, the director of the film.
Kahiu argues that the ban infringes on her freedom of expression and artistic rights but the film board has insisted that it is only to “protect the society from moral decay.”
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The board had accused producers of the film of a “clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law”.
The battle to allow Kenyans to freely see Rafiki has dragged on since 2018. But Kahiu is not reneging on her desire to have the film screened across the country and hinted that she is willing to take issues to a higher court.
The director reportedly told Reuters after the recent court decision: “We are disappointed of course. But I strongly believe in the constitution and we are not going to give up. I think it is very important for us to define what freedom of expression means in Kenya as per our constitution. We are going to appeal. The ruling today is not a true reflection of what the constitution says.”
Rafiki, Swahili for “friend”, is a story about romance between two young women, Zena and Kiki, against the backdrop of political tension and misapprehension about homosexuality in Kenya.
Outside Kenya, Rafiki has been a success. It was Kenya’s first-ever film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year, a feather in the cup of director Kahiu, 39.
She has in the past described herself as the “black sheep” of a conservative family that comprises a father who is a businessman and a mother who is a doctor.
That conservatism that runs in Kahiu’s family is a microcosm of Kenya where sexuality and gender roles are not topics up for challenge, at least, from someone looking to re-imagine human relationships in Kenya.
To this end, Kahiu recognizes the political nature of her film but was nevertheless bent on forcing matters with Rafiki.
But even before Rafiki, Kahiu had an argument as to why homophobia was the wrong response to sexuality. Falling on the southern African concept of Ubuntu, humanity in Zulu, the flimmaker insisted that the exclusion encouraged by homophobia was hostile to humanitarianism.
She had hoped that Rafiki would have been seen as “a normal love story” but it seems Kahiu would have to wait longer.
Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya where the law has been in that country’s books since the days of British colonization.