Daniel Nelson

Kenya’s film classification board initially banned Rafiki “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law and dominant values of the Kenyans”.



Image by Rafiki

The idea that only "dominant values" can be promoted is a self-condemnatory misunderstanding of democracy and rights, and the absurd pomposity of the statement graphically illustrates the extent to which Kenya's political elite (and many other political elites around the world) are out of touch with the times.

Adapted from a short story by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko, the first Kenyan film to be selected for the Cannes film festival is a vibrant, colourful and sometimes over-lush drama about the love between earnest, plain Kena and flirty, rainbow-braided Ziki, and the backlash it sparks.

To add spice to the relationship, both are daughters of men running against each other for political office.

Around them are worried parents who want the best for their daughters, trouble-stirring gossips who hope for the worst, ego-bruised friends, Christians who worship the letter rather than the spirit, and onlookers simply enjoying a pubic diversion.

Yes, there are cliches, and you wonder whether the young women's naivety about hanging out in the Nairobi cafe run by the neighbourhood's chief gossips can really be explained by their giddy excitement, by Ziki's flamboyance and by the fact that many in the surrounding crowd would not be expecting to see an expression of same-sex love. I have a feeling, too, that the lovers get off comparatively lightly in the ruckus that erupts when they are discovered "glued together like dogs". Director Wanuri Kahiu keeps the colours incandescent, the story simple and pacey, and the music schmaltzy but offers glimpses of visual originality and character complexity - particularly Kena's long-standing friend Blacksta and her father, whose girlfrind is pregnant and who has political ambition but has more humanity than the scriptural obsessives.

It's entertaining, on a serious issue. The film board should be proud of her.

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