Kenya’s first Cannes feature film is banned at home for encouraging LGBT rights

The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) has banned Rafiki, an LGBT film written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu. KFCB chief executive Ezekiel Mutua said the agency banned the film because it contains homosexual scenes, which he said is contrary to the law in Kenya.

Rafiki, which means “friend” in Kiswahili, tells the story of two young women who fall in love. The film, set to premiere at this year’s 71st Cannes Film Festival next month, is the first Kenyan feature film to receive such an invitation from the most prestigious film festival in the world.

Kahiu announced that the film had been banned in Kenya on Twitter. She said she believes adults in Kenya have been denied the right to discern the content they want to watch.

On Friday, KFCB announced: “The Board has restricted a local film titled ‘Rafiki’ produced by Awali Entertainment Ltd. Its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya is contrary to the law.”

The ban came just days after KFCB chief executive Ezekiel Mutua applauded the movie’s director Wanuri Kahiu during an interview with Royal Media’s Jeff Koinange on Hot 96FM last week. On the show, Mutua had indicated that he would be going to the Cannes in France to promote the movie.

“I had a great meeting with Wanuri Kahiu, one of the greatest Kenyans that we have in the film industry and her movie has been nominated,” Dr Mutua had said. “Cannes is big, other than the Oscars, Cannes is the best.”

A still image from “Rafiki.”

In a series on tweets on Friday, however, Dr Mutua said, “We will not allow the creation, distribution, broadcast, exhibition or possession of any film that offends the sensibilities of the Kenyan people.

“The objective is clearly to normalize homosexuality in Kenya and the message in the story is to celebrate the resilience of youngsters involved in lesbianism. These are material alterations without full disclosure on the nature of the film.”

Mutua affirmed that any content that undermines the institution of family, which is recognized in the Constitution as the basic unit of society, will be resisted, additionally claiming that the producers altered the film script which they submitted for licensing to the agency without permission.

The film agency said it is planning to pursue legal means to hold the producers accountable for making material alterations to the script they had produced for classification initially and coming up with a product whose theme and intention is contrary to that information.

Kahiu, has refuted claims by Mutua that the script previously approved by the board had been altered. She maintained, in an interview with Hollywood Reporter, that the film was absolutely the same as in the script.

Kahiu further stated that the board did not ask for changes to romantic scenes, and instead asked the director to change the ending of the film. “They asked me to change the ending of the film because they didn’t feel the ending was ‘remorseful’ enough, I told the board I would consider their suggestion but when I returned I declined to make the change,” Kahiu said.

Many countries across Africa have laws against homosexuality, with people facing severe harassment and physical threats. In Kenya, those caught in the act of gay sex attract up to 14 years in prison.

The film’s ban comes as Kenya’s High Court has begun hearing arguments in a case that challenges parts of the colonial-era laws seen as targeting the LGBT community. Kenya’s National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission argues that the sections are in breach of the constitution and deny basic rights by criminalising consensual same-sex relations between adults.

In March, an appeals court ruled that a law requiring the police to conduct anal exams on people accused of same-sex relationships was unconstitutional. The court is expected to announce a date for its ruling on Monday.