Kenya: Rafiki - From Banned to in Demand

Photo: Supplied
Promotional image from Rafiki.
30 September 2018

In Rafiki there is a scene were Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) is slapped hard by her politician father, while she is at a police station. That was a brutal scene and many cringed from it. Wanuri Kahiu has a history of moving audiences with her work.

Wanuri had to take the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) to court for Kenyans to be able to watch a film that was made in Kenya and by Kenyans. And watch it, they did.

The high demand for tickets of the lesbian-themed film forced theatres to triple the screenings. It was also added to screen at other theatres in Kisumu and Mombasa. Initially, it was only to be screened once a day at Prestige Cinema, but IMAX eventually came on board and screened it.

Rafiki became the first Kenyan film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival and would go on to be screened at several festivals around the world, leaving Kenyans wondering why a Kenyan made film was not showing in Kenya. The issue was that the movie was seen to "glorify homosexuality" which is not the "culture" of Kenyans.

The screenings turned out to be colourful as the movie is, as young Kenyans turned out in colours that support the LGBTQ. Some of the most interesting things about Rafiki include the fact that one of its lead stars, Samantha Mugatsia who plays Kena, was acting for the very first time.

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According to Patricia Kihoro who was a cast member and also the Music Director, Wanuri was at a gig and Samantha who is a drummer with a band called Yellow Light Machine saw her playing and said, "that's her and I will do whatever it takes to get her in this film,". Patricia told the story on Tuesday during a screening for media at Goethe-Institut.

Munyiva, on playing the role of Ziki, said that she was assigned an acting coach with whom "we created the look and the feel for Ziki; how does she walk? how does she talk? what inspires her?, and then once that was done I spent about a week living like Ziki."

"I had to become an 18-year-old who has everything before them, so she has no care in the world and can do and say what she wants," added Munyiva.

Dr Mutua had described the film as immoral in our society, instead, what we got were a couple or so mild make-out scenes here and there. There was also no nudity or anything. For the KFCB to ban this movie because of this is really annoying. Anyone who has seen movies would probably just rate it at 16 and not 18.

That film was magnificently created. The best thing in this movie is the directing; Nairobi is brought to life. We are seeing a man sharpening a knife, a woman cutting Sukuma wiki for a customer, kids playing, people in church, and more. Wanuri got the resources to pull off a masterful movie that sticks in the mind.

Munyiva wowed the audience with her breathless performance of a young smitten lover while Mugatsia was also excellent despite it being her first role. She was playing the sort of strong silent trope that we are very familiar with, she seemed a bit wooden at points in the performance.

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