Wanuri Kahiu has filed a lawsuit to make Rafiki eligible for an Oscar, appealing against Kenya’s hardline conservative laws regarding homosexuality
The Kenyan director of a movie banned in her home country for telling a love story about two women has filed a lawsuit seeking to lift the ban so it can be considered as the country’s Oscars entry, court documents show.
Rafiki, which means friend in Swahili, premiered at the Cannes film festival, the first Kenyan film to do so. It is adapted from an award-winning short story, Jambula Tree, by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko.
To be eligible as Kenya’s entry for best foreign language film at the 2019 Academy Awards, it must have been released in Kenya by 30 September. However, it was banned in April on the grounds that it promotes lesbianism.
Wanuri Kahiu, who directed Rafiki, lodged the suit against Kenya Film Classification Board chief Ezekiel Mutua and the country’s attorney general, the documents show.
The board, which vets scripts before filming can begin, imposed the ban in April, saying on Twitter: “Anyone found in its possession will be in breach of law.”
The ban represented a reversal by the board as Mutua had earlier praised the film as “a story about the realities of our time”.
Homosexuality is taboo across much of Africa and gay people face discrimination or persecution. In Kenya, gay sex is punishable by 14 years in jail. In recent years, however, campaigners for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender rights have become increasingly vocal.
Earlier this year, Kenyan film-makers had urged authorities to revamp a 1960s law that imposes restrictions they say are stifling their resurgent industry. The law, which predates Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963, allows the government to “control the making and exhibition” of audio visual material including films.
Kenya’s film industry was worth $2bn in 2016, up from $600m in 2007, according to a study by the Kenya Film Commission.