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Wanuri Kahiu’s lesbian love story Rafiki, the first Kenyan film to compete in Cannes, has been banned in its home country.
The Kenya Film Classification Board took the step of banning the film after head Ezekiel Mutua said the homosexual scenes were illegal in Kenya.
Mutua said the script previously approved by the board had been altered, and that he will pursue legal action against the producers.
However, Kahui told The Hollywood Reporter the film is “absolutely” the same as in the script.
Mutua also said his objections were around romantic scenes in the film, and that he had asked the Kahiu to edit these scenes.
Kahiu counters 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,” Kahiu told The Hollywood Reporter of the meeting, which took place April 16. Kahiu said she originally told the board she would consider their suggestion but returned April 25 and declined to make the change.
“They did not ask me to change any scenes of intimacy,” she said. The film is based on Monica Arac de Nyeko’s short story Jambula Tree, which won the Caine Prize in 2007. The story sees the two lovers beaten as their community turns against them.
“If they had asked us to reduce the intimacy because of classification, that would have been one thing, and we would have gladly done that,” she said. “However, the change that they were asking for was for the ending to be changed to make it less hopeful.” The director had submitted the film for an over-18 rating.
“I refused to make it a sad ending, and I refused to make the characters remorseful and I do not believe in depicting images of Africans as sad and despairing or desperate. That is not my style, and that is not my ethos,” she said.
Kahiu said the film will still premiere in Cannes on May 9: ”We intend to celebrate the film, and it will be a film in exile.”
In a series of tweets Friday, Mutua said that the film contains “homosexual scenes that are against the law, culture and values of the Kenyan people. The film seeks to overtly promote lesbianism.”
“We will not allow the creation, distribution, broadcast, exhibition or possession of any film that offends the sensibilities of the Kenyan people,” he wrote.
“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 even added the hashtag #KFCBbansLesibanFilm, which quickly went viral with comments and jokes as readers asked Mutua if he was now a lesbian after watching the film as well as pointed out the country’s corruption statistics and other social and political problems.
Under Mutua, the board has banned several films, including The Wolf of Wall Street and Fifty Shades of Grey for their sexual content.
But the board has a history of banning local gay-themed content, including a locally remixed video to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” for its “graphic sexual scenes between people of the same gender” in 2016.
In 2014, the board also banned Stories of Our Lives, another Kenyan film with LGBT themes for “obscenity, explicit scenes of sexual activities, and homosexuality, which is contrary to national norms and values.”
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