Kenya lifts ban on lesbian film Rafiki so it can compete at Oscars

Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva play Rafiki characters Kena and Ziki

Kenya’s High Court has overturned its government’s ban on a lesbian film so it can be submitted for Academy Awards consideration.

Rafiki, a lesbian love story directed by Wanuri Kahiu, was banned earlier this year by the the state-run Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law.”

It is understood that Rafiki‘s refusal to show its characters exhibiting remorse for their sexuality also played a part in the board’s decision.

Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu poses on May 9, 2018 during a photocall for the film "Rafiki" at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP/ Getty)

Wanuri Kahiu at the Cannes Film Festival (LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty)

The KFCB wrote on Twitter: “Rafiki should not be distributed, exhibited within the Republic of Kenya. Anyone found in possession will be in breach of the law.”

The critically acclaimed film was still shown in several locations around the world—including Cannes Film Festival—despite being prohibited in its home country.

Kahiu sued the Kenyan government to get her film released for seven days in order to qualify for the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film award and won her case on Friday.

The film’s two main characters getting to know each other (Rafiki)

The suspension will be lifted between September 23 and 30 to make Rafiki eligible for Oscars consideration.

No Kenyan film has ever received an Oscar nomination in the category, and just two have ever been submitted.

Judge Wilfrida Okwany said that only adults would be able to see the film during its seven-day-long release, according to Kenyan outlet The Star.

In her ruling, Okwany told the court: “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film.”

Rafiki actresses Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia (ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty)

She added that the existence of homosexuality in real life and art “did not begin with Rafiki.”

Dudley Ochiel, Kahiu’s lead attorney, said that “the ruling is a win for the freedom of expression and artistic creativity in Kenya.”

Judge Okwany “understood the issues and also questioned the justification for a total ban, including for Kenyan audiences,” he added to BuzzFeed News.

The country’s high court is currently deciding whether or not to follow India’s example in overturning a colonial-era law to decriminalise homosexuality.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 27: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks duirng a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House August 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

President Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House (Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty)

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been president of the country for five years, said in April that being gay was “not acceptable” and “not agreeable” in Kenyan culture, and that LGBT+ rights were “of no importance.”

“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,” he said.

“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.”