In as much as LGBT relationships have been widely accepted in the western parts of the world, the same hasn’t been the case in African countries, at least a majority of them. According to the International Gay and Lesbian Association as stated in 2015, homosexuality is outlawed in 34 out of the 54 recognised states in the continent. Kenya, of course, isn’t an exception as far as this issue is concerned; the legal battle that unfolded between K.F.C.B and the ‘Rafiki’ film director some months ago is just a testament of it.
Rafiki is a one-of-a-kind movie especially in the Kenyan context; there hasn’t been anything like it before and there probably won’t be many movies like it in the future. Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, it’s a love story that centers on two young women, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) who face a lot of hardships in trying to fortify their relationship from a society that is not receptive to it.
The expectations that came along with the ground-breaking film from the perspective of the producers and Wanuri herself were massively deflated when K.F.C.B banned it. The reasoning behind the ban was because of it’s homosexual theme and it’s supposed intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law. The director decided to sue the government body demanding the film be allowed to be screened and be submitted as Kenya’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. It’s a lawsuit that Wanuri won, sort of, because the film did have a limited release but unfortunately it was beaten in Kenya’s pick for Foreign Language film by Supa Modo.
In the grand scheme of things, the question that begs is whether or not K.F.C.B was right to ban the film and therefore inconvenience it’s release and distribution. On one hand, we have a government body that is mandated with regulating film and entertainment content based on the values and norms of the Kenyan people. On the other hand, we have a film whose purpose is to start a positive conversation about LGBT rights in Kenya.
From an objective standpoint, K.F.C.B were well within their mandate to ban the film and validly so. The issue of homosexuality is something that a majority of Kenyans still haven’t accepted because it goes against the values and traditions of many if not all tribes in the country. Considering how impactful cinema has proven to be in starting conversations on certain issues, K.F.C.B were only acting in the interest of a majority of Kenyans and they had a right to.
Don’t get me wrong though, I am not fully defending the government body. As a film enthusiast myself, I love it when movies address societal issues that most people don’t want to acknowledge nonetheless, I do understand their point of view.
Kenya lacks a big enough LGBT audience that would give K.F.C.B a reason to green-light a movie like ‘Rafiki’. Furthermore, according to a K.F.C survey, more than one quarter (26.4%) of Kenyans don’t watch movies much less local ones hence there isn’t a big enough ‘cinema-going’ audience who’d understand the aesthetic and thematic values of a film like this.
I tend to think ‘Rafiki’ is a right film but made in a wrong time in Kenya. As a country, there are more strides that need to be taken in relation to the fight for LGBT rights and more people need to come out to address it. Only then will a ‘Rafiki-esque’ film be more impactful; to help push the cause to another level, not start it.