'Rafiki': The Lesbian Love Story That Kenya Banned And Then Unbanned : Goats and Soda In the hopes of becoming an Oscar contender, the Kenyan film board allowed the movie to play in Nairobi for a week. Director Wanuri Kahiu sees it as the beginning of a fight for freedom of expression.
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'Rafiki': The Lesbian Love Story That Kenya Banned And Then Unbanned

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'Rafiki': The Lesbian Love Story That Kenya Banned And Then Unbanned

'Rafiki': The Lesbian Love Story That Kenya Banned And Then Unbanned

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Over this week, there's been a small revolution in Kenya across movie screens. For the first time, a same-sex love story is on the big screen. And NPR's Eyder Peralta reports it's making people consider freedom of expression, the constitution and finally feeling they've been heard.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: I watched "Rafiki" in a packed theater in the middle of the day. It's a movie about Kena and Ziki, two young women full of joy and wonder.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RAFIKI")

SHEILA MUNYIVA: (As Ziki) Let's make a pact that we will never be like any of them down there.

PERALTA: And at one point, inside an abandoned van, the two women realize they've fallen for each other. They touch. They look in each other's eyes. And then they kiss. At the theater, you could almost hear the audience holding its breath - and as lips touched, applause.

ALEX TEYIE: It's, like, a queer movie in Nairobi in 2018. It's just fantastic to see.

PERALTA: After the movie, in the lobby, I find 25-year-old Alex Teyie sharing a smile with her friends.

VALARY MUMBO: It's really good to see that - yeah - Kenyans are waking up. Yeah. They're good. They're woke.

PERALTA: "Rafiki" is a milestone here, where gay sex is illegal. A few years ago, the gay film "Stories Of Our Lives" was banned in Kenya. It was so controversial that some of the filmmakers remained anonymous. The film classification board also banned "Rafiki," but a court put that ban on hold temporarily. A judge said "Rafiki" would be allowed a seven-day screening period so it would be eligible for an Oscar nomination.

Valary Mumbo says the ruling is bittersweet. She wishes the movie were playing for months so Kenyans in cities and villages could watch it. But she can't help but feel glee that two theaters were jam-packed in the middle of a weekday.

WANURI KAHIU: I think we won the battle, but we still have to continue with the war.

PERALTA: That is what Wanuri Kahiu, the director. "Rafiki" was the first Kenyan film to screen at Cannes. And she says she was heartbroken when it was banned at home, so she sued.

KAHIU: The case has become larger than the film and - because the case is not about "Rafiki." The case is about freedom of expression.

PERALTA: In a lot of ways, this is just one instance in which Kenya is coming to terms with one of the most liberal constitutions on the continent. Courts are weighing cases about separation of powers. They are hearing challenges to the country's anti-sodomy laws. And here, the court is going to decide whether Kahiu has the right to tell a love story that challenges some of the country's most conservative moorings.

In a statement, the film classification board called the temporary injunction a, quote, "sad moment and a great insult." Kahiu says she just wanted to show characters of color, LGBT characters, following their hearts, and the beauty and heartbreak that often entails.

KAHIU: And that was the point - is that it doesn't matter who you are. Love is love. And that is an absolute, universal, basic language.

PERALTA: The movie is a love story. And she hopes that beyond the politics, beyond the legal battle, that's what Kenyans walk away with. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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