Forbidden love seems to be a surefire way to spark intrigue in a good film. But this premise was given real-life weight when Wanuri Kahiu’s new feature Rafiki was banned in Kenya, only weeks before becoming the first Kenyan film to premiere at Cannes Film Festival.
Rafiki tells the story of two girls, Kena and Ziki, the daughters of rival politicians in Kenya. They skirt the identities they’ve been assigned as they fall in love, in a country that forbids any kind of same-sex relationships. (Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya; sodomy is a felony, punishable by 14 years in prison.)
Kahiu’s film was banned in compliance with these laws, with the Kenya Film Classification Board explaining that the ban was due to “[Rafiki]’s homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law and dominant values of the Kenyans”. However, this didn’t stop the film playing in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes – a section celebrating non-traditional stories being told across 20 “original and different” works – to a standing ovation.
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