Director of Lesbian Love Story Sues Kenyan Government Over Ban

Cannes_UN CERTAIN REGARD_ RAFIKI Still 2 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Wanuri Kahiu has called on the Kenyan government to lift its ban on 'Rafiki' to allow the lesbian love story a chance to qualify for the Oscars.

With her eye on the Oscars, Rafiki director Wanuri Kahiu has filed suit against the Kenyan government to have her banned Cannes entry screened in her native country.

Rafiki was banned by the Kenyan film board in April, shortly before its world premiere in Cannes. The film board found the movie's depiction of lesbian sex to be a violation of Kenyan law. Gay sex is illegal in Kenya and is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Kahiu's film has the "clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya, contrary to the law," the film board's head Ezekiel Mutua said in his ruling. The film has yet to be screened in Kenya. For the film to be eligible for best foreign-language film Oscar consideration, it must unspool there before Sept. 30.

On Sept. 10, Kahiu filed suit against Mutaua and Kenyan attorney general Paul Kihara Kariuki, calling for the ban to be lifted in time for Oscar qualification.

Rafiki, which means "friend" in Swahili, follows the story of two girls who become lovers, only to be ostracized by their community and beaten.

The Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney called the Un Certain Regard entry a "fresh, engaging" love story.

Mutua had at first publicly supported the film in interviews before reversing course and taking the step to ban Rafiki. He said the pic's final version was significantly altered from the script submitted to Kenyan censors before filming and has threatened legal action against the producers.

In an interview with THR, Kahiu maintained the script had not been altered from the original version. She said Mutua had asked her to change the ending of the film after it had been completed. When she declined, Kahiu said, Rafiki was banned.