Kenyan High Court Lifts Ban on Lesbian Love Story ‘Rafiki,’ Making Film Eligible for Oscars

Film was banned in Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal

Last Updated: September 21, 2018 @ 5:14 PM

The Kenyan High Court on Friday temporarily lifted a ban on “Rafiki,” director Wanuri Kahiu’s lesbian coming of age romance, making the film eligible for the 2019 Academy Awards.

“I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that it cannot handle a gay theme. There are Kenyans who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy today,” judge Wilfrida Okwany said in her ruling, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The court ruled that “Rafiki” can be screened until Sept. 30, enough time to for a seven-day theatrical run, a requirement to be considered as the country’s submission for the best foreign-language Oscar. “Rafiki” will now screen daily at Nairobi’s Prestige Cinema and Prestige Plaza theaters between Sep. 23 and 29, according to the film’s official Twitter account.

“Rafiki” was the first Kenyan film ever to make Cannes’ main selection, during the festival in May and is a rare same-sex romance to come out of Africa, where the majority of countries have outlawed homosexuality.

The Kenya Film Classification Board banned “Rafiki” in April, citing the film’s “homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law and dominant values of the Kenyans.” Same sex relationships are illegal in Kenya, and punishments can include up to 14 years in prison.

In an interview with TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, Kahiu explained that the film board’s primary objection was that “they felt that the ending was not remorseful enough, they felt it was too hopeful.” She says she refused to change the ending, at which point the board said it would enact the ban. Watch the interview at the top of the page.

Following the Kenyan high court’s decision, Kahiu celebrated the news on Twitter.

From second-time director Kahiu, “Rafiki” follows Kena and Ziki, two friends who long for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls resist and remain close friends, supporting each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, the two girls are forced to choose between happiness and safety.