Kenyan Film “Rafiki” Shows LGBTQ Representation Matters—Even When Courts Disagree

Rafiki—an award-winning new lesbian romance film by Wanuri Kahiu, Kenyan director, producer and author—has lost its long-endured Freedom of Expression ruling in Kenya’s high courts. 

“It is with a heavy heart that I share news about the court ruling for Freedom of Expression and the unconstitutionality of banning Rafiki,” wrote Kahiu in a statement. “We lost this time. Rafiki remains banned in Kenya and Freedom of Expression of any LGBT themed work remains silenced. We will appeal and continue our fight for Freedom of Expression.”

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Nominated for a GLAAD Media Award, Rafiki tells the story of a blossoming romance between two, young Kenyan women—Kena, played by Samantha Mugatsia and Ziki, played by Sheila Munyiva—in a time where their love is both despised by their families, and criminalized by their government. All the while, the movie captures the “colorful street style and music of Nairobi’s vibrant youth culture,” according to GLAAD’s Spencer Harvey.

The film had its international premier in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it made history as the first Kenyan film ever to be screened there. However, prior to its premier, Rafiki was banned in director Kahiu’s home country of Kenya, due to its positive representation and portrayal of an LGBTQ love story. 

This is not Rafiki‘s first legal battle—as the film also won a landmark 2018 supreme court case that began to reverse decades-old Kenyan anti-LGBTQ legislation, and lifted the screening ban for one week in order for the film to potentially qualify as the Kenyan entry for the 2019 Academy Awards. (Sadly, another film was chosen.) 

Kahiu has been resilient in her fight to show her films and has decided to continue challenging the ban in Kenyan courts. Kahiu argues that the government’s ruling encompasses broader freedom of expression implications, and Rafiki should not be banned in its country of origin—nor any country, for that matter. 

Rafiki is a beautiful story about love that deserves to be celebrated, not censored,” said GLAAD president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis. “Wanuri Kahiu is a gifted filmmaker and we applaud and join her continued efforts to fight back against the injustices facing LGBTQ media images in Kenya and other parts of the world. LGBTQ people will never be silenced. I hope our community and allies around the world watch Rafiki and loudly share its message.”

In support of Kahiu, in protest of any, and all, anti-LGBTQ legislation, we can all join in a small act of civil disobedience and solidarity by streaming Rafikinow available on Amazon Prime!

Kenyan Film "Rafiki" Shows LGBTQ Representation Matters—Even When Courts Disagree


Corinne Ahrens is a recent graduate of The American University where she studied Political Science with a specialization in Gender, Race, & Politics as well as Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Corinne has been writing for Ms. since October 2019 and is a former Ms. editorial intern. She currently works at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy in their Philadelphia office.