Wanuri Kahiu’s feature film Rafiki (also known as “Friend”) has officially made history as the first Kenyan film to debut at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rafiki follows the story of two lesbian lovers, Kena and Ziki who, “despite the political rivalry between their families, resist and remain close friends and support each other to pursue their dreams against the odds”. When love blossoms between them, the two girls are forced to choose between happiness and safety, given the conservative society they live in.

The official website of the film states that the film was inspired by the 2007 Caine Prize winner, Monica Arac de Nyeko’s Jambula Tree, which chronicled a story of two girls in love in Uganda. The filmmaker added that “making a film about two women in love set in Kenya, means challenging deep rooted cynicism about same sex relationships among actors, crew, friends, and family.”

Kahiu shared the importance of this film on her website:

“Making a film about two women in love, set in in Kenya, means challenging deep rooted cynicism about same sex relationships among actors, crew, friends, and family.

Over the past 5 years of developing this script and project, we have seen worrying developments in the anti-LGBTI climate in east Africa.

Our neighbor, Uganda’s government has an ongoing crusade to pass the so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, which is an extreme but terrifying example of the battle this community faces.”

Kahiu is a Kenyan film director, producer, and author. She has received several awards and nominations for the films which she directed, including the awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009 for her dramatic feature film From a Whisper. She is also the co-founder of AFROBUBBLEGUM, a media collective dedicated to supporting African art.

The Cannes Film Festival runs May 8 – 19, so be sure to check out Rafiki if you will be attending!

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