Until just recently, the Kenyan romantic drama Rafiki was banned in its home country. This was due to the ruling that the film “promoted” homosexuality, which is still technically illegal in the east African country. While Rafiki flourished as the first selected Kenyan film at the Cannes Film Festival, Kenyan citizens were not allowed to see the film in theaters.
The movie follows Kena and Ziki, two young women in the same Nairobi housing estate. Throughout the film, a deep bond between them forms, developing into a sweet romance. The love story was praised by critics, but it has to be shown in its country of origin to be chosen for an Academy Award.
According to the AV Club, director Wanuri Kahiu sued her home country’s government for the right to show her movie for a week. The seven-day run is the minimum requirement for the film to be submitted as a contender for Best Foreign Film. She succeeded, and the judge ruled that her film would be given daytime screenings for a week.
“I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film,” the judge said in regards to the case.
While the film will be re-banned after its short run, Kahiu is pleased with her accomplishments. She plans on fighting to have the ban lifted entirely, but this is a step in the right direction.
“I remained hopeful that our constitution is strong,” she said. “I believe it is our right as creators to reflect society and it is our role to talk about all subjects.”
As the Guardian reported, viewers packed into the Prestige Cinema to watch the film, and many LGBT activists were present. One unnamed woman who went by “Vicky” wore a rainbow scarf and commented on how happy she was to see the film.
“This week means so much to so many people. People can see themselves on screen and they can know that it is OK to express themselves in that way.”
While this a moment of hope for many LGBT people in Kenya, there is still the threat of prejudice and violence looming over them. Outside the theater, many people like Vicky remove their rainbow scarves and hush these aspects of their identity in order to remain safe.
“This feels like a safe space. But the second I leave this [cinema], I don’t want anyone to see my face like that. Not because I’m scared that I am not a normal person, but because I am scared of expressing myself that way. So much judgment comes with it.”