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‘Rafiki’: Kenya Lifts Ban on Lesbian Film, Qualifying It for Oscar Submission

The Kenyan High Court temporarily lifted a ban on Wanuri Kahiu’s film about two girls who fall in love, allowing it to be considered for Best Foreign Language Film.

“Rafiki”

Cannes

In a windfall for LGBT rights in Kenya, the country’s High Court announced Friday a temporary lift on “Rafiki,” a lesbian film from filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May. “Rafiki” debuted in the Un Certain Regard section, and follows a forbidden romance between two teenage girls who must contend with their families and conservative society. Prior to its Cannes debut, the Kenya Film Classification Board banned “Rafiki” from playing in Kenya, alleging that the film “promotes lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law.”

The High Court’s ruling, made by Justice Wilfrida Okwany, has temporarily lifted the restricted status for seven days to be screened for “willing adults.” According to BuzzFeed, Okwany said in her ruling: “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film.” She also cited Kenyan artists who have had to flee the country and seek asylum because their work went against societal expectations.

Kahiu had sued the KFCB over the ban, citing damage to her career, since a film must have a theatrical run in its home country to be considered for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The deadline to submit films for the Oscar is September 30, which means Kahiu and her producers now have two days to organize the required seven-day theatrical run.

“I am crying,” Kahiu tweeted Friday morning. “In a french airport. In SUCH Joy! Our constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression!!!! WE DID IT! We will be posting about Nairobi screening soon.”

“It is a sad moment and a great insult…that a film that glorifies homosexuality is allowed to be the country’s branding tool abroud,” reads a statement from KFCB head Ezekial Mutua, who was named in Kahiu’s suit. “The Board firmly believes that films should reflect the dominant values of the Kenyan people. Homosexuality does not qualify as such.”

Inspired by inspired by Monica Arac de Nyeko’s 2007 Caine Prize winner “Jambula Tree,” “Rafiki” is a star-crossed love story between two young women, Kena (Samantha Muatsia) and Zika (Sheila Munyiva). Rivals at first (their fathers are running against each other in a local election), they soon connect over their mutual desire for something more. “Rafiki” is the first Kenyan film to play Cannes, has since been seen at the Toronto International Film Festival, and will soon play New York’s LGBTQ film festival, NewFest.

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