Why Kenyan controversial lesbian film “Rafiki” can win an Oscar

A Kenyan judge has temporarily lifted ban on acclaimed film “Rafiki”, which portrays a lesbian relationship. This move makes the film eligible to be entered for a Foreign Language Oscar, delighting its filmmakers but angering the censor. “Rafiki” premiered at Cannes, being the first Kenyan film to be selected by the prestigious festival.

The film depicts sweet romance about two young women living in the same Nairobi housing estate thus being banned by the Kenya Films Classifications Board on the grounds of promoting homosexual behavior.

While making her ruling, Justice Wilfrida Okwany said that during the seven-day suspension period, the film shall only be open for viewing to willing adults, adding that the director is allowed to admit the film” to Kenya’s Oscars selection committee. She also 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. A cinema in Nairobi has since announced that it would screen the movie starting Sunday.

Wanuri Kahiu, the film’s director tweeted, “I am crying. In a french airport. In SUCH Joy! Our constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression!!!! WE DID IT!” The Kenya Film Classification Board, which banned the movie in April, however said it still considers “Rafiki” morally subversive. The board said in a statement “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”.

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.

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