Street-smart tomboy Kena and rainbow-haired free-spirit Ziki are daughters of opposing Naoirobi politicians. Both dream of a life beyond the stifling confines of their conservative neighbourhood, parents and church. After meeting by chance, their friendship blossoms into something more serious, but their tender happiness is threatened by violence and restrictive views.
Writer-director Wanuri Kahiu transplants a familiar, Romeo & Juliet-style, tale of forbidden love to Kenya, where homosexuality is still illegal – a legacy of British colonial rule. Although Kena and Ziki must deal with violence and disdain from their friends, family and church, the film is also full of the joy of young love full as it is of bright colours, a joyous soundtrack (from all-female African bands) and beautiful, chemistry-filled performances from the two young leads.
The Kenyan Film Classification Board offered Kahiu an 18 certificate if she changed the ending – they thought it was too optimistic. She refused and the film was banned on the basis it sought to “promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law and dominant values of the Kenyans”. Kahiu successfully brought a legal action to get Rafiki shown in Kenyan cinemas for seven days so it qualified for the Oscars, and the screenings were hugely popular.
Having made headlines in Kenya and abroad, this is a socially and politically important film, but also a vital burst of energy and young love which bursts with effervescent colour.
Rafiki is an important film, focusing on a hopeful and romantic love story between two young women in Kenya. The fact that it’s been banned in Kenya is exactly why it is important and why it needs to be seen by as many people as possible outside of that country, to give real people in their situation a voice. It highlights how much religion still dominates the political situation there. However, it also demonstrates the vibrancy and joy of the youth in overcoming an oppressive society. And Wanuri Kahiu has shown this through a jubilant explosion of colour and music – this film feels like a celebration and a triumph over adversity. A must-see. Fiona Underhill, Jumpcut Online