From Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu, Rafiki made headlines due to its controversial ban in its home country, but enjoyed a successful UK premiere at this year’s festival. Though the film might be most recognisable thanks to its recent notoriety, Rafiki is a sweet, vibrant film with an important story to tell about falling in love against the odds.
Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is an ordinary young woman living in Nairobi. She likes skateboarding, hanging out with her friends at a local café, and helps her father run his corner shop. She also happens to like girls; something that is illegal in Kenya. When she catches the eye of a girl with bright pink hair, Kena feels an instant connection. Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) does too, and the girls begin to flirt, meeting up in secret and growing steadily closer. However, their blossoming romance is impeded not only by the homophobic views of the country, but the fact that their fathers are running against each other for local government. Despite the forces that seek to pull them apart, Kena and Ziki are determined that their love is something ‘real’, and will stand the test of time.
Though a fairly typical romantic trajectory, Wanuri’s film stands out with its neon colour scheme and funky pop soundtrack. The chemistry between the leads is a joy to watch; the two actresses capture the confusing combination of excitement, intrigue, and shyness that characterise new relationships. Of course, their newfound feelings are immediately under the scrutiny of everyone around them, and drag the girls into unwanted conflict. Wanuri isn’t afraid to expose the harsh realities faced by LGBT people in Kenya, and the deep familial rifts that can be caused. Perhaps the film’s main shortcoming lies within the short run time; the story begs for further development that would give the girls’ relationships with each other and their respective families more emotional depth. That said, Rafiki is rather lovely in its simplicity.
The film is imperative in instigating discussion as to the struggles of the LGBT community outside of western-centric queer films. The revulsion of the Kenya Film Classification Board shows that there is still a long way to go in promoting visibility and acceptance in its home country. Nevertheless, Kena and Ziki’s story is a defiant statement that proves that to love honestly can be something both quiet and revolutionary, and will always be more powerful than prejudice.
by Megan Wilson
Megan Wilson is a northerner currently studying film at King’s College London, and recently completed a semester at the University of Michigan. She is passionate about cats, old musicals, and turtleneck sweaters, but is not in fact an 80-year-old man. Her favourite films include Carol, Moonlight, Singin’ in the Rain, and Matilda. Find her on Twitter: @bertmacklln