“Stories of Our Lives” — which was one of our most anticipated films of the Toronto Film Festival this year — has been banned in its native Kenya by the Kenya Film Classification Board.
“Lives” mixes 5 short films — “Duet,” “Run,” “Ask Me Nicely (Itisha Poa),” “Each Night I Dream,” and “Stop Running Away” — to create a pioneering anthology about the lives of LGBT people in a part of the world we too often ignore. “Beyond the pervasive social and cultural conservatism of Kenyan society, the country’s laws stigmatize and criminalize non-heterosexual identities, which has naturally resulted in the near-total absence of questions of sexual identity from Kenyan cinema,” TIFF said. “‘Stories of Our Lives’ is both a labour of love and a bold act of militancy, defying the enforced silence of intolerance with tales rooted in the soil of lived experience.”
Now the country has been restricted on both private and public spaces because the film “has obscenity, explicit scenes of sexual activities and it promotes homosexuality which is contrary to our national norms and values”.
The film was created by a collective known as “The Nest,” which has responded to the accusations by the Film Board saying:
”Does the film include obscenity? Yes. In one scene, an angry young man hurls insults at his best friend who he saw visiting a gay bar. Does the film include explicit scenes of sexual activities? That depends on your definition of “explicit”. Let’s just say the average viewer of Kenyan music videos would find the one depiction of sex in Stories Of Our Lives, very, very not explicit.”
Does the film promote homosexuality? How exactly does one “promote homosexuality”? Pink leaflets handed out to unsuspecting passers-by? Is homosexuality some kind of fad, or like a cold you can catch from greeting someone in the bus? It is clear that the board thinks that Kenyan adults are unable to safely watch this film without turning into a horde of virulent, flaming homosexuals (one hopes members of the Board were not afflicted by “gayism” after watching the film).
Does the film transgress “national norms and values”? Stories Of Our Lives is a film about people, it’s about co-existence, it’s about finding love and belonging. We made this film to open dialogue about identities, what it means to be Kenyan, and what it means to be different. By placing a restriction on this film, the Board has chosen to delay this inevitable conversation.
We hope Kenyans will get to see this film one day, because we made it for Kenyans.
For those Kenyans who happen to be abroad, stay up to date with our international film screenings here. For Kenyans at home, the soundtrack to the film is available as a free download here. Hopefully, you won’t “catch gayism” from listening to it.