Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva in 'Rafiki'. (NuMetro)
Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva in 'Rafiki'. (NuMetro)


5/5 Stars


"Good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives," but Kena and Ziki long for something more. Sidestepping the political rivalry between their respective families in a conservative society, the girls remain close friends, supporting each other in pursuing their dreams. When love blossoms between them, the girls are forced to decide between happiness and safety.


From the moment Rafiki opens, with upbeat music and colourful titles, it tells the audience: "get ready to fall in love with these two leads." They're positioned like comic book characters in the first panels: the bright colours pop in the earthy landscape, and we meet Kena, a beautiful, spritely and easy-going young woman.

Then we see her friends, and that's when we get to the dark, homophobic part of her world. The man who spews the slurs is her best friend Blacksta - someone with whom she laughs and drinks. It's then that we realise that the best parts of her world intertwine so effortlessly with the worst parts of it.

The bright, carefree joy of young adulthood mixes with the bitter taste of bigotry. A taste made even more complicated by the fact that when we see Kenna lock eyes with Ziki. The girl she seems destined to be with.

Their love is, of course, doomed. But that doesn't stop them from falling head over heels for each other. And that's when the most hard-to-watch moments of the film take place. The journey of Rafiki's lead characters are very reflective of not only the Kenyan society that it is based in but the broader African landscape.

Even in a country with anti-discrimination laws as incredible as South Africa's, black lesbians are beaten and killed just for being who they are. So, I have to say that to see that reality born out on the screen from such a bright and happy beginning and the whimsical love affair was a bit jarring. But I realise now that was the point.

To show that the specks of hate can spark violence and change the course of people's lives forever. I must commend filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu on the way the sparse dialogue and beautiful shots are used to create a world that envelops you. It left me wanting to see more black queer people, from different parts of Africa, represented on screen.

The chair of the Kenya Film Classification board said that he banned the film last April for "clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law." Homosexuality is punishable up to 14 years in prison in the conservative country.

As a result, Wanuri filed a constitutional petition to remove the ban make it eligible to compete in the Best Foreign Language Film category in the Academy Awards. High court judge Wilfrida Okwany consented. It was only a short reprieve before the film was banned again, but in that short time, the film topped the box office. I am so happy that people got to see it in its home country, but I hope for it to be unbanned and shown all over the continent.

I am so happy that South African audiences will be able to see it – and not only because the two leads Samantha Mugatsia (Kena) and Sheila Munyiva (Ziki) are fantastic – but because it tells a beautiful love story.

I want to say if you can go see this movie in local cinemas, please go do so. The only way to get more queer films in mainstream South African cinemas is to show distributors that audiences want to see them. For too long heteronormativity has been the order of the day, much to the disservice of millions of queer people who are left unseen and seemingly invisible. Now's the time for a critical sea change.



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