Skip to main content

Rafiki was the first Kenyan film to be selected for a Cannes premiere, but it was banned at home for promoting homosexuality.

A Kenyan judge temporarily lifted a ban on an acclaimed film portraying a lesbian relationship on Friday, making it eligible to be entered for a Foreign Language Oscar, delighting the filmmakers but angering the censor.

“Rafiki” - “Friend” in Swahili - premiered at Cannes, the first Kenyan film to be selected by the prestigious festival.

Hailed by critics as a “sweet” romance about two young women who live in the same Nairobi housing estate, it was banned at home on the grounds that it promotes homosexuality, which is a criminal offense a colonial-era law.

Story continues below advertisement

Addressing a packed courtroom in Nairobi, Justice Wilfrida Okwany ordered the ban lifted for a week.

“During the seven-day suspension period, the film shall only be open for viewing to willing adults,” she said as a number of people sighed with apparent relief, hugged each other and congratulated the lawyer representing director Wanuri Kahiu.

Okwany said the director was “hereby allowed to admit the film” to Kenya’s Oscars selection committee.

“I am crying. In a french airport. In SUCH Joy! Our constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression!!!! WE DID IT!” Kahiu tweeted.

A Nairobi cinema announced it would screen the movie from Sunday.

But the Kenya Film Classification Board, which banned the movie in April, said it still considered “Rafiki” morally subversive.

“It is a sad moment and a great insult, not only to the film industry, but to all Kenyans who stand for morality, that a film that glories homosexuality is allowed to be the country’s branding tool abroad,” it said in a statement.

Story continues below advertisement

The judge said the film’s depiction of a same-sex relationship has been “tolerable” to adult audiences in other countries including South Africa, where homosexuality, as in most of the continent, is also taboo.

“I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society whose moral foundation will be shaken by simply watching a film depicting gay themes,” Okwany said.

The ruling comes as Kenyan rights activists fight to decriminalize gay sex, something that happened in India this month, raising hopes among gay right proponents in Africa.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies