A ban on the Kenyan film Rafiki, which tells the story of two female students from a Kenyan housing estate who fall in love, has been lifted for one week so it can be considered for an Oscar in the Foreign Language Film category.
Rafiki, which means “friend” in Swahili, was the first ever Kenyan film to be featured at Cannes Film Festival.
After the ban was lifted, a screening was put on in the Prestige Cinema in the country’s capital of Nairobi, which quickly sold out. An extra screening was added on the day due to demand, while screenings are expected to sell out for the duration of the week.
The film was originally banned by the Kenyan Film Classification Board as it was seen to promote homosexuality. The film does not feature any sex scenes, rather focusing on the character’s sensual and emotional connection. Although the ban was lifted for seven days, which is the minimum requirement to be considered for an Oscar award, it will only be allowed to be shown to “willing adults.”
Rafiki follows Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) who fall in love in a country where British colonial-era laws banning sex between two people of the same sex remain, and where, according to filmmakers, “good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives.”
The film’s director, Wanuri Kahiu, wrote on Twitter about her excitement at the ban being lifted, saying, “I am crying. 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.”
I am crying. 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. Follow @rafikimovie
— Wanuri (@wanuri) September 21, 2018
Movie fan Mike, who did not provide a surname out of fear of being harassed for his sexuality, said, “Mentalities are difficult to change, but at least, this movie triggers a debate in this country. I hope the new generation will have a more tolerant approach than the older ones.”
Black Panther star and fellow Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o also praised the decision, writing on Twitter, “Great news: The Kenyan High Court lifted the ban on the film
#RAFIKI and it plays for only 7 days making it eligible for Academy Awards submission! Run and go see it!”
Great news: The Kenyan High Court lifted the ban on the film #RAFIKI and it plays for only 7 days making it eligible for Academy Awards submission! Run and go see it! Follow @rafikifilm for details! Great day for the creative industry in Kenya! Congratulations @wanuri!
— Lupita Nyong'o (@Lupita_Nyongo) September 22, 2018
Kenyan activists have been hoping that the East African nation will follow in the footsteps of India, who recently decriminalised homosexuality.
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