Kena and Ziki long for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls resist and remain close friends, supporting each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety. Inspried by Monica Arac de Nyeko's "Jambula Tree", which chronicles a story of two girls in love in Uganda, "Rafiki" challenges deep rooted cynicism about same sex relationships among actors, crew, friends, and family in Kenya.Written by
The film had its international premiere in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. See more »
Performed by Njoki Karu (Beth Nijoki) See more »
A Brave Move
This "Rafiki" (Swahili for "friend") has nothing to do with the character from "The Lion King". It is about a friendship between two young women which eventually becomes a lesbian romance. The two girls are the daughters of two political rivals who are candidates in the same election, although not too much is made of this aspect of the story.
The story is a fairly slight one, and were this an American or European film I doubt if it would have attracted much attention. Except, of course, this is not an American or European film. It is a Kenyan film and the two young women, Kena and Ziki, are from Nairobi. As in many other African countries, homosexuality is both illegal and socially taboo in Kenya, so a film on this theme was unprecedented there. The Kenyan film industry seems to be in the position which the British and American film industries were in in 1961. This was the year which saw the first mainstream British film about same-sex love ("Victim", about male homosexuality) and the first American one ("The Children's Hour", about lesbianism).
It was therefore a brave move on the part of director Wanuri Kahiu to make this film. It was, predictably, banned by the Kenyan authorities, "due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law". What upset them was not just that the film dealt with lesbianism but also that it treated the subject in a positive way. After a lawsuit the High Court of Kenya temporarily lifted the ban, allowing the film to be screened in the country for a limited period of one week. (The hope was that this would allow it to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but in the event another film became Kenya's nomination for this award). Let us hope that films like this one will lead to a change in attitudes to homosexuality in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa. 7/10
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