Film & TV

How Kenyan Director Wanuri Kahiu's First Feature Broke Boundaries

'Rafiki' won international accolades while being banned at home.
Reading time 1 minutes

Photography by Christopher Sherman

Styling by Corey Ng

When Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu set out to make a film about young love five years ago. This year, her movie Rafiki, or Friend, debuted at film festivals around the world—receiving a standing ovation at Cannes before heading across the pond for a run at TIFF.

Around the same time, however, Kahiu learned that Rafiki was going to be banned in her home country by the Kenya Film Classification Board. The reason? The story of young love centers around two teen girls living in Kenya, where same-sex intercourse carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. “We have so many other films with all sorts of heinous things that are against the law,” Kahiu says over the phone from Nairobi. “And I was just making a film about love, which is, strangely enough, not against the law—it’s just the act that is.”

Kahiu sued the Board and, in a small but mighty success, a Kenyan judge lifted the ban for exactly one week in September. Citizens flocked to the screening, eager to know what the controversy was all about—and even more eager to see an honest LGBTQ narrative, starring an African cast and supported by an African crew, depicted on the big screen.

Casting: Ian Monroe

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