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The Kenyan high court has temporarily lifted the ban on Wanuri Kahiu’s lesbian love story, Rafiki, giving the film a chance to have an Oscar-qualifying run.
In a decision handed down Friday, judge Wilfrida Okwany ruled that the film can be screened until Sept. 30, giving it the required seven-day run to be in contention for the country’s best foreign-language film submission.
“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,” she said when handing down her decision. It will be given an over-18 rating.
The film, which premiered in Cannes, had been banned by the country’s film classification board on the basis that it promotes homosexuality, which is illegal in the country.
Following the ruling, the board still stood firmly in opposition to the film and released a statement calling the film “an attempt to normalize homosexuality” and likened the decision to “air conditioning hell.”
“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,” it said. “The board firmly believes that films should reflect the dominant values of the Kenyan people. Homosexuality does not qualify as such.”
The board said it hasn’t been formally notified of the ruling, but will comply once it is official.
Kahiu filed suit against film board president Ezekiel Mutua and Kenyan attorney general Paul Kihara in order to give the film a chance at Oscar qualification.
Rafiki, which means “friend” in Swahili, follows the story of two girls who become lovers, but face disapproval and physical violence from their community.
Since banning the film, Mutua claimed that the film had varied from the original script which had been approved by the board, while Kahiu maintained the script had not been altered. She said Mutua had asked her to change the ending of the film to make it “less hopeful,” and subsequently banned the film when she refused.
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