First Reactions: Rafiki

What should have been a happy time for director Wanuri Kahiu was peppered with sadness. Her moving drama about two young Kenyan girls falling in love was selected as the first Kenyan film to be shown at Cannes, however the film has been banned from being shown in her home country.  In an interview director Kahiu stated that “We truly hoped the Kenya Film Classification Board [KFCB] would respect our right as creators to express ourselves,” however at the time of writing there has been no further development on whether her film will be allowed to be screened in Kenya.

The story centres around two women who are called Kena and Ziki, who meet and fall in love. Their romance unfolds against a backdrop of homophobia and intolerance in a country where homosexuality is outlawed, and the film is based on Jambula Tree, a prize-winning short story by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko. The trailer starts with the women stating that they won’t be like anyone else, they will be real.

We can already see that this film is going to be centring relationship rather than sex, which was my main issue with Blue is the Warmest Color (which is perhaps a reflection of its male director). The film is an array of bright, dazzling colours and it looks full of life. The use of colour here is a great decision by Kahiu, especially with the character of Ziki who looks effortlessly cool with her pastel coloured dreadlocks and neon pink nails.

Rafii photo

Kena is courted by a young man who states he can give her whatever she wants, a house, a mortgage, security. Kena replies back with “You think that’s all I want in life?” Only for her mae suitor to reply back with “That’s what everyone wants.” This is a nice introduction to our main character, who knows she is different from the mundane world she finds herself in, and that she is aware there’s more to life than the traditional gender roles which are trying to be forced upon her.

We discover that Kena wants to become a doctor, and she also wants to be with another young woman, Ziki. At first their relationship is more like a friendship, they go out clubbing and go on day trips with one and another, but there’s something more to their relationship.

We discover that these young women live in an extremely homophobic world, their father’s are politicians and they attend church, where the priest preaches about the “dangers of same-sex marriage.” There are clear obstacles that these young women must overcome, and the shots of Ziki reaching for Kena’s hand, only for Kena to swat it away, is heartbreaking.

The trailer doesn’t give much away, in regards of the film’s conclusion but I hope it will be a happy ending. The performances from the leading actresses Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva look strong, and the director seems very confident with her style. This looks to be a moving film, which will hopefully get the attention it deserves. The final shot is the character of Kena being involved in a religious act, looking straight at the camera, her face expressionless, but we can see the pain and anger in her eyes. In 2018, how can we still live in a world full of prejudice?

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