25 January 2014

Kenya: The Overzealous Kenya Film Board Needs to Take a Chill


Twenty four years ago when I first began work as a journalist, one of my first assignments was as the film reviewer.

I had loved films ever since my mother took me to the BelleVue Drive-In to watch The Ten Commandments.

Some of my most vivid memories took place at the movies.

I remember sneaking in to see the film Jaws at the Nairobi Cinema. Sneaked in because it was classified by the Film Censor Board as being unsuitable for people aged below 10 years old and my friend and I were only aged seven.

I remember going to the Cameo Cinema on Kenyatta Avenue to watch Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill films and to the filthy Casino Cinema off River Road to watch Kung-Fu movies as a young teen.

I remember trekking all the way to Ngara's Shan Cinema to watch a James Bond film festival.

I was thrilled to attend the 'Walk-In' outdoor cinema at the village square while on a holiday visit to my grandmother in deepest-darkest Central Province where in between intermittent attacks on the audience by safari ants, my young uncles and I watched cowboy films.

I remember attending charity film premiers with my parents at the then upmarket 20th Century and Kenya cinemas whenever they were involved with such showings.

But most of all, I have always loved the fantasy world of the movies, being able to go into a darkened hall or sitting in the relative comfort of a car at the drive-in and then losing myself in fantasies scripted in Hollywood, Pinewood or Bollywood, take your pick.

So when in 1989 I was watching film previews, writing about them for the public and getting paid for it in the bargain, I knew I was onto a winner.

In those days, I also doubled as a reviewer of stage plays and with the pushing of freedom of speech and expression boundaries in an unravelling authoritarian one-party state, those were exciting times.

Back then it was rare, if ever it happened, for films to be banned for either sex or violence. After all wasn't this the Nairobi where films such as the Swedish sex education film The Language of Love sold out to packed houses whenever it was shown?

When the censors thought there was too much violence or sex or swearing in a film they simply made it an Adults Only film thereby ensuring that only people the law saw fit to allow consensual sex, marriage or the right to elect the nation's leadership could watch the film.

So I was amused to learn that in the much heralded digital age where you can download films off the internet and onto your mobile phone, that the people at the Kenya Film Classification Board, were so shocked by a film that they collectively clutched at their pearls, reached for the smelling salts and banned it.

The Wolf of Wall Street is showing here in Cape Town where the foolish KFCB restrictions don't apply and so I watched it quite freely on Sunday morning.

If I was the KFCB I probably would not release for general exhibition, there was some full-frontal nudity, a lot of swearing and sex, so perhaps not quite right for impressionable little Atieno, Wanjiku, Fatuma, Tom, Dick or Peter but certainly it should be safe for an Unsuitable for children Under 16 rating or at worst an Adults Only release.

After all there was nothing in the film that you couldn't find on the nearest TV station or DVD shop.

What the Indian writer and film maker Anand Siyakumaran said in an article in the Times of India last weekend applies equally to Kenya: "The root of the problem is that we in this country are terrified of sex. For some reason we think accepting - nay, even acknowledging - it will cause the very bedrock of our civilization to crumble and all of us to fall into the fires of some unknown hell where we will be cooked for all eternity."

By the way on this day in 1971, the dictator Idi Amin took over in Uganda.

The moral dictators at KFCB really need to understand nobody needs their moral guardianship just their very general guidance as what is suitable for which demographic to decide to watch.

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