The director of a gay-themed Kenyan film has alleged that it was banned after she refused the censor’s request for gay characters to show remorse.
Rafiki, which means friend in KiSwahili, is about two Kenyan girls who fall in love and must contend with the country’s stigma towards homosexuality.
The film is set to debut at Cannes Film Festival next month, but the Kenyan Film Classification Board (KFCB) last week denied permission for the film’s release in Kenya.
Rafiki director Wanuri Kahiu has since spoken out about the decision.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Kahiu alleged that the KFCB had initially signed off on the film’s script, and only decided to ban the film after she rejected abrupt demands to give the film a sad ending.
She said: “They asked me to change the ending of the film because they didn’t feel the ending was ‘remorseful’ enough.
“They did not ask me to change any scenes of intimacy… if they had asked us to reduce the intimacy because of classification, that would have been one thing, and we would have gladly done that.
“However, the change that they were asking for was for the ending to be changed to make it less hopeful.
“I refused to make it a sad ending, and I refused to make the characters remorseful and I do not believe in depicting images of Africans as sad and despairing or desperate.
“That is not my style, and that is not my ethos.”
She still plans to debut Rafiki at Cannes, adding: “We intend to celebrate the film, and it will be a film in exile.”
The decision to ban the film is alleged to have been made by KFCB chief Ezekiel Mutua, an extreme opponent of LGBT rights.
Mutua made no secret of his animosity towards the project on social media, retweeting hundreds of messages attacking the “sinful” film and rallying against homosexuality.
The KFCB wrote: “Rafiki should not be distributed, exhibited within the Republic of Kenya. Anyone found in possession will be in breach of the law.”
KFCB spokesperson Nelly Muluka later added: “Our culture and laws recognise family as the basic unit of society.
“We cannot, therefore, allow lesbian content to be accessed by children in Kenya.”
The film’s synopsis reads: “Kena and Ziki long for something more. 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.
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“When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety.”
Kahiu previously attacked the decision to ban her film when LGBT content from overseas is available on online streaming platforms.
She told Reuters: “I’m really disappointed because Kenyans already have access to watch films that have LGBT content, on Netflix, and in international films shown in Kenya and permitted by the classification board itself.”
“So to then just ban a Kenyan film because it deals with something already happening in society just seems like a contradiction.”
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, recently insisted that being gay is “not acceptable” and “not agreeable” in Kenyan culture, and that LGBT+ rights are “of no importance” in his country.
Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour earlier this month, the leader said that he wanted to be “very clear” that he would not decriminalise homosexuality.
“I want to be very clear. I will not engage in a subject that is not of any major importance to the people and the Republic of Kenya.
“This is not an issue as you would want to put it, of human rights – this is an issue of society. It is an issue of our own base, our own culture as a people.”
Check out a trailer for the film below: