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Kenyan judge lifts ban on ‘Rafiki,’ making the LGBTQ film Oscar-eligible

Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva in Rafiki

The film will screen in Nairobi from September 23rd-29th, making it eligible for Oscar consideration. 

A Kenyan judge has temporarily lifted the ban on Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki, paving the way for the LGBTQ love story, which world premiered in Cannes and recently screened at Toronto, to be submitted for the foreign-language film Oscar race.

Cannes Interview: Wanuri Kahiu on her film Rafiki and the future of African cinema

Judge Wilfrida Okwany said Friday she was “not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film.” She added that “one of the reasons for artistic creativity is to stir the society’s conscience even on very vexing topics such as homosexuality,” which, she said, “did not begin with Rafiki.”

Rafiki (which translates to ‘friend’ in Swahili) tells the story of two teenage girls whose romance is opposed by their families and community. It was adapted from Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko’s short story “Jambula Tree,” which was awarded the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing in 2007.

Cannes Review: Wanuri Kahiu’s touching if familiar lesbian romance ‘Rafiki’

Director Wanuri Kahiu filed a lawsuit on September 11th against the Kenya Film Classification Board for its April ruling which had banned the film from local theaters over what CEO Ezekiel Mutua described as its depiction of “homosexual practices that run counter to the laws and the culture of Kenyan people.” Mutua continued saying the film attempting to “legitimize lesbianism” in Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal.

With the ban lifted, this opens the door for Rafiki to be submitted for the foreign-language Oscar race, which requires that nominees must be shown in their country of origin for seven consecutive days. The deadline for submissions is September 30th. Currently, the film is slated to show in Nairobi from September 23-29th, making it eligible for submission. 

About Erik Anderson

Erik thanks his mother for his love of all things Oscar, having watched the Academy Awards together since he was in the single digits; making lists, rankings and predictions throughout the show. This led him down the path to obsessing about awards. Much later, he found himself at GoldDerby, led by Tom O’Neill and then migrated over to Oscarwatch (now AwardsDaily), headed up by Sasha Stone before breaking off to create AwardsWatch. He is a member of the International Cinephile Society, GALECA (The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics), the International Press Academy and is the founder/owner of AwardsWatch.

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