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Art

‘Rafiki’ premieres as lifting of ban excites movie fans

Rafiki
Film director Wanuri Kahiu, actresses Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva during a photocall for ‘Rafiki’ at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, on May 9. PHOTO | AFP 

Thank heaven for the judge who cancelled Kenya Film Classification Board’s ban on Wanuri Kahiu’s film Rafiki, which will now be shown not only in Nairobi at Prestige Plaza through Sunday but also in Mombasa and Kisumu.

Originally, the court ruling was that the film could be shown for the seven consecutive days required for Rafiki to be eligible for an Oscar nomination. But due to popular demand, the screening has been extended countrywide to six cinemas in all.

The KFCB would have deprived all Kenyans the opportunity to see the film, which now has a real chance of winning an academy award at next year’s Oscars in Hollywood.

Kahiu was being real when she said she’d just wanted to make a film that tells of tender love story about friendship, which is what Rafiki essentially is.

Of course, in Kenya, same-sex love is still seen as a cultural abomination. But the love scenes in Rafiki are neither pornographic nor gratuitous, contrary to KFCB’s insistence that the film preaches homosexuality.

Rafiki is a well-told story that’s got a Shakespearean touch to it, given it’s got a Romeo and Juliet theme of two feuding families, the Mwaura’s and the Okemi’s.

Both household heads (played by Jimmy Gathu and Dennis Musyoka respectively) are running for public office, with Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) being a Mwaura and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) an Okemi. But like Shakespeare’s sweethearts, the two friends overlook their fathers’ political feud. They get in big trouble for it, but their friendship endures. Or does it?

I won’t be a spoiler to give away too much of the plot. But there’s ambiguity at the end of Rafiki, which makes the film all the more intriguing.

The two girls couldn’t be more opposite. Kena’s a flat-chested tomboy who plays football with the guys, rides a skateboard and works part-time in her father’s shop.

Ziki, on the other hand, is a free-spirited party-girl who’s charmed by Kena, and the feeling quickly becomes mutual.

But their trials come just as quickly as social pressures mount, first from the local gossip, Mama Atim (Muthoni Gathecha), then from the church and the parents, and finally from the mob which metes out its own form of violent ‘justice’ against the two nonconformists.

But despite those ugly moments in the film, the cinematography of Rafiki is beautiful, as is the casting.

What’s more, the film has got an authentic Kenyan texture as most of it was shot at Highrise, right here in Nairobi.

Patricia Kihoro was Rafiki’s musical director, keeping the sound-track upbeat and featuring all Kenyan female musicians, according to Wanuri’s specification.

Much of the film has English subtitles since most of the urban conversations are in Swahili and Sheng, which also adds to the Kenyan feeling of the film.

There will be critics of Rafiki and most of them will stay home and not go see the film. Yet when Rafiki wins on that international platform, they can inevitably claim credit for its being by a Kenyan.

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