Saturday, April 28, 2018

Kenya abruptly bans Rafiki film from Wanuri Kahiu shortly before its Cannes Film Festival debut because the lesbian story contains kissing scenes.

Kenya's notorious censorship board has abruptly banned the film Rafiki, from Wanuri Kahiu, shortly before its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in two weeks' time as part of the growing censorship trend gaining momentum and sweeping the African continent from Nigeria to East Africa and South Africa.

Rafiki, meaning friend in Swahili, is based on the short story Jambula Tree by Uganda’s Monica Arac de Nyeko, and revolves around two girls who develop a romance that’s opposed by their families. The film has been included for screening in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival.

The awkward banning by the East African country’s draconian Kenya Film Classificaion Board (KFCB) comes after Kenya earlier had effusive praise for the film and its inclusion in the Cannes Film Festival.

It’s similar to South Africa where the multiple award-winning film Inxeba was first lauded and congratulated by the South African government for making it to the top 9 in the Oscars’ foreign films category before suddenly falling silent with no support after it was banned with a new X18 classification by the South African Film and Publication Board (FPB) – a decision that was later overturned following an outcry by the public as well as the country’s writers, producers and organised TV and film industry.

Wanuri Kahiu who wrote, directed and co-produced the 80-minute film shot in Nairobi, told the breakfast show Morning Express on Kenya’s KTN channel on Friday morning that “unfortunately, our film has been censored in Kenya, because it deals with matters that are uncomfortable for the Kenya Film Classification Board but I truly believe that an adult Kenyan audience is mature and discerning enough to be able to watch this film and have their own conversation”.

Wanuri Kahiu said that her film is “a reflection of society, and we need to be having conversations about what is happening in our society. But unfortunately, because the film has been banned, we’ll be unable to have these conversations”. She said ” I’m incredibly disappointed, because I believe in Kenya.”

Earlier in April, Wanuri Kahiu in an interview on the Hot96FM radio station, said her film “speaks about our reality and the challenges our kids are facing and we’re trying to sweep it under the carpet and make it look like it’s not happening. Film and art should be a mirror of society and reflect on what’s happening with a view to offering solutions and guiding society to become better.”

In a televised speech, William Ruto, Kenya’s deputy president, warned that Kenyans are not only banned from watching censored films even privately, but that it is also against to law to even discuss “illegal material” once the KFCB have banned it.

Kenya’s censorship tsar, Ezekiel Mutua, in a statement said Rafiki is banned because it “legitimizes homosexuality” against the “values, cultures and beliefs of the people of Kenya” because “homosexual practices that run counter to the laws and the culture of Kenyan people”. He said “It is our considered view that the moral of the story in this film is to legitimize lesbianism in Kenya”. Rafiki contains scenes like kissing.

The embarrassing new ban will continue to drive both African and international producers, filmmakers and production companies away from Kenya and opting for other locations who are fearful that their projects, creativity, production budgets and freedom of expression are not welcome, nor respected and protected, in the East African country.

In November Ezekiel Mutua banned the teenage show Andi Mack from the Disney Channel (DStv 303) because one of the characters is gay. 

In June 2017 the KFCB – citing utterly bogus reasons culled from conspiracy theiry sites – banned The Loud House, Legend of Korra and Hey Arnold from Viacom International Media Networks Africa’s Nickelodeon (DStv 305), Star vs the Forces of Evil and Gravity Falls from Disney XD (DStv 304), as well as Adventure Time and Steven Universe from Turner Broadcasting’s Cartoon Network (DStv 301) because of “gay” content.

None of the content reasons given by the KFCB for the bans for any of these shows are true. 

However, because these channels have only one channel feed into Africa, it means that Naspers’ MultiChoice and individual channel distributors, in order to remove the content for Kenya, have been forced to remove the content for DStv subscribers across the entire Africa, including countries like South Africa.