Kenya Lifts Ban on “Rafiki,” a Lesbian Movie Now Eligible for an Oscar

Now the film could be nominated for an Oscar.

Two young Nairobi women fall in love and must choose between happiness and safety in Rafiki | Photo by Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki Official Trailer)

Last week in Nairobi, a judge provisionally lifted the ban on Rafiki, a critically acclaimed, independent feature film about a lesbian relationship.

The Kenya Film Classification Board banned Rafiki in April, on the grounds that it promoted homosexuality and was considered morally subversive. But since then, Rafiki has made history: It was the first film out of Kenya to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Now the film could be nominated for an Oscar, since it’s eligible for the Foreign Language category.

Rafiki portrays a romantic relationship between two young women, Kena and Ziki, who live in a Nairobi housing estate.

“When they fall in love [they] must choose between love and safety against a backdrop of insular gossip, local politics and burgeoning maturity,” according to the official website.

Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, Rafiki stars Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva in the leading roles. The film was based on ‘Jambula Tree,’ an award-winning short story by Monica Arac de Nyeko.

“Rafiki means friend in Swahili,” Kahiu explains, “and often when Kenyans of the same sex are in a relationship, they forgo the ability to introduce their partners, lovers, mates, husbands or wives as they would like, and instead call them rafiki.”

Since the ban has been temporarily removed—for only one week—the film is being widely screened in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. In order for a film to be submitted to the Oscars, it must have been publicly exhibited for seven consecutive days at a commercial motion picture venue. The removal of the ban allows just enough time for this to happen.

Upon hearing the judge’s ruling, Kahiu tweeted: “I am crying. In a french airport. In SUCH Joy! Our constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression!!!! WE DID IT!”