Wanuri Kahlu speaks at TED2017 - The Future You, April 24-28, 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

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Kenya: The Country’s First Feature Film At Cannes Festival – Rafiki By Kenya’s Wanuri Kahiu


Kenya’s feature-film make a big appearance at the Cannes Festival is a helpful story of determination even with extraordinary abuse. Movie producer and maker Wanuri Kahiu portrayed her film Rafiki as “an anecdote about all that is great and troublesome about being enamored so that for those blessed minutes we are lifted over our biases”.

Wanuri Kahlu speaks at TED2017 – The Future You, April 24-28, 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

Rafiki is the story of friendship, love, loyalty and the aspirations of two young women, Kena and Ziki, whose families happen to be on opposing sides of the political divide. This disparity is the basis for the struggles they must endure as they attempt to support each other in the pursuit of their dreams. They face immense pressures and ultimately have to make a tough choice: happiness or safety?

The International Festival de Cannes released its catalogue of female filmmakers in line with its goal for gender parity, and in a line-up of 13 films, six female filmmakers are featured. Rafiki was the only Kenyan entry and marks the first time that a Kenyan feature film debuts at the festival.

According to the film’s press kit, Rafiki was inspired by the short story that won the 2007 Caine Prize: ‘Jambula Tree’, by Monica Arac de Nyeko, a coming-of-age story about two girls in love, set in Uganda.

The filmmaker added that making a film about two women in love that was set in Kenya meant challenging deep-rooted cynicism about same-sex relationships, even among actors, crew, friends and family. She describes the worrying anti- LGBTQI+ developments in East Africa that happened during the five years that it took to develop the project, such as Uganda’s proposed “Kill the Gays” Bill, which called for the death penalty for all Ugandans found guilty of “aggravated homo”.

Wanuri is not the first filmmaker to attempt telling alternative love stories. In 2014 The Nest, a multidisciplinary Kenyan collective that works on film, fashion, visual arts and music, produced an LGBTQI+ Kenyan fictional film titled Stories of Our Lives. Despite much international success, the film endured a banning, cast and crew harassment and the arrest of its local producer.

These instances demonstrate the magnitude of undertaking the production of a lesbian love story in Africa and just as vividly shows the need for it.

About the filmmaker

Wanuri Kahiu is a Kenyan film director, producer and author. She has received several awards and nominations for the films she directed, including the awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009 for her dramatic feature film From a Whisper. She is also the co-founder of AfroBubbleGum, a media collective dedicated to supporting African art.

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