“Rafiki”, a new coming of age story about two girls falling in love in Nairobe’s anti-gay climate, has been nominated for a Palme d’Or award at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival. It is the first Kenyan film ever nominated for the coveted award.
While this is exemplary news it is important to stress the making of this film wasn’t an easy decision. The movie’s anti-gay climate is not fictitious it is a very real danger for open LGBT people in countries like Kenya and Uganda, as well as many other countries around the world.
The “Rafiki” script is based upon the 2007 Caine Prize award winning film “Jambula Tree” directed by Monica Arac de Nyeko about two girls in Uganda who fall in love. In creating that film the entire cast and crew risked severe backlash and according to “Rafiki” director Wanuri Kahiu the film was a literal act of bravery.
Our neighbor, Uganda’s government has an ongoing crusade to pass the so-called ‘Kill the Gays” bill, which is an extreme (but terrifying) example of the battle this community faces.
Wanuri KahiuWanuri has concerns for the climate in Nairobi, Kenya as well. In 2014 LGBT Kenyan fiction film “Stories of Our Lives” was released to international success but it was banned from Kenyan theaters, the cast and crew were harassment and it led to the arrest of their local producer.
“..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.
On whether cases like these initially deterred or pushed her to tell the “Rafiki” story Kahiu replied, “these examples illustrate the challenges of producing a film about a lesbian love story in Africa, (but) it also highlights how urgent and necessary a story of this kind is.”
The way Kahiu describes the “Rafiki” film is reminiscent of another potentially controversial but break out success film titled “Call Me By Your Name”. The coming of age film is about a 17 year old boy in Italy who falls in love for the first time with another man. The beautiful film translated well outside the LGBT circle because at the core it is a love story and it was something everyone could relate to. Kahiu intended the same thing for her film.
“Rafiki” is a story about all that is good and difficult about being in love, so that for those fortunate moments … we make ourselves ready for it”
The Cannes Film Festival is set to start May 9th through the 19th. “Rafiki” is up for the coveted Palme d’Or award in the Un Certain Regard category.