Cannes 2018: Wanuri Kahiu’s Lesbian Love Story ‘Rafiki’ Is First Kenyan Feature Film to Ever Screen at Festival

The director of the award-winning short film "Pumzi" is poised to make history at 71st edition of the festival.
Rafiki, Wanuri Kahiu
Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia in Wanuri Kahiu's "Rafiki"

The Cannes Film Festival might still be struggling to round out its competition slate with more female filmmakers, but its Un Certain Regard section continues to tout something close to actual gender parity. This year’s section — which often boasts high numbers of female filmmakers — features six female filmmakers from a lineup of 13 films. Among them is a bonafide history-maker: Wanuri Kahiu’s “Rafiki” (also known as “Friend”), which marks the very first Kenyan feature film to debut at the festival.

On the film’s website, it’s billed as a love story between its female leads. Per the official synopsis, “Kena and Ziki long for something more. 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.”

Kahiu notes on the film’s site that “Rafiki” was inspired by the 2007 Caine Prize winner, Monica Arac de Nyeko’s “Jambula Tree,” which chronicled a story of two girls in love in Uganda. The filmmaker added that “making a film about two women in love set in Kenya, means challenging deep rooted cynicism about same sex relationships among actors, crew, friends, and family.”

The Kenyan filmmaker also noted that her film is “a story about all that is good and difficult about being in love, so that for those fortunate moments we are lifted above our prejudices.”

The film is Kahiu’s second feature film, following her 2009 drama “From a Whisper.” Her 2010 sci-fi short “Pumzi” screened at Sundance in 2010.

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