The first Kenyan film to ever be shown at the Cannes Film Festival has been banned in Kenya due to a lesbian storyline.
The Kenyan government said that Rafiki was a “clear intent to promote lesbianism” and announced that it would not be allowed to premiere in the country.
The film was directed by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, who said on Friday that she was “incredibly sorry” for the film being banned.
“We believe adult Kenyans are mature and discerning enough to watch local content but their right has been denied,” she wrote on Twitter.
The story is about two “good Kenyan girls,” according to its official website, who want to be more than just wives to men.
“Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls resist and remain close friends, supporting each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society,” the synopsis reads. “When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety.”
The decision to ban the film came as a surprise, as Ezekiel Mutua, CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board, sang its praises while speaking with a local radio station in April. “Cannes is big,” Mutua said, adding that, “other than the Oscars…Cannes is the best.”
However, last week he released a statement condemning the film’s LGBTQ themes and saying Kahiu went off the approved script.
“We wish to emphasize the fact that films made in Kenya for public consumption MUST reflect and respect the dominant values of the Kenyan society,” the statement said. “Any attempt to introduce and normalize homosexuality in Kenya flies in the face of the law and the constitution must be resisted. Hare-brained schemes by foreigners funding film producers in Kenya to promote homosexuality in the name of equality and inclusion will be exposed and strongly resisted.”
Homosexuality is not criminalized by the Kenyan Constitution, but a national penal code allows LGBTQ people to be persecuted because they are considered a “person against the order of nature.” Conviction can lead to a 14-year prison sentence.
In March, a Kenyan appeals court ruled it unlawful to force men suspected of being gay or bisexual to submit to anal examinations designed to “prove” their homosexuality.
Metro Weekly's Emails are a great way to stay up-to-date with everything you want to know -- and more!