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‘Rafiki’: Kenya Bans First Cannes Movie Over Lesbian Romance Storyline

In a statement announcing the film's restriction, the Kenya Film Classification Board said "Rafiki" "promotes lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law."

Rafiki, Wanuri Kahiu

Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia in Wanuri Kahiu’s “Rafiki”


Kenyan authorities announced it would ban lesbian romance film “Rafiki” ahead of its Cannes Film Festival debut, on the grounds that it “promote[s] lesbianism” in violation of Kenyan laws prohibiting gay sex. “Rafiki” is the first Kenyan film ever invited to the internationally renowned festival.

The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) announced the ban on Friday, April 26, issuing this official statement: “A local film title ‘Rafiki’…has been RESTRICTED due its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law.” Board member Nelly Muluka tweeted: “Our culture and laws recognize family as the basic unit of society. The KFCB cannot, therefore, allow lesbian content to be accessed by children in Kenya.”

“I’m really disappointed because Kenyans already have access to watch films that have LGBT content, on Netflix, and in international films shown in Kenya and permitted by the classification board itself,” the film’s director, Wanuri Kahiu, told Reuters. “So to then just ban a Kenyan film because it deals with something already happening in society just seems like a contradiction.”

“Rafiki” is a love story between two girls, Kena and Ziki. Per the official synopsis: “Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls resist and remain close friends, supporting each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety.”

“Rafiki” will debut in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, along with other boundary-pushing and women-directed films. The ban is similar to censorship faced by South African gay coming-of-age tale “The Wound” last year, which was only allowed to play in theaters licensed for adult entertainment in its home country.

IndieWire has reached out the film’s producers for additional comment.

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