Rafiki, one of the most anticipated films to come out of Africa touches on topics like same-sex relationships (lesbian romance specifically), womanhood and love; themes that are never fully highlighted in the African cinema. Although Rafiki did well internationally and also bagged a Cannes Film Festival debut and a 2020 GLAAD nomination, it was banned in the country by the Kenya Film Classification Board in 2018 on the grounds that it promotes homosexuality in a country where gay sex is a criminal offence. The ban was temporarily lifted in 2019 in order to allow the film to be submitted for Oscar consideration, but it only lasted seven days.
Wanuri Kahiu appealed against the ban, arguing it was against freedom of expression which is enshrined in Kenya’s constitution. But a Kenyan court on Wednesday refused to lift a ban, declaring that it “does not in any way violate Artistic Freedom of Expression, but instead protect the society from moral decay.” The judge also insisted that the filmmaker had failed to prove that ban placed a limitation on her freedom of expression in her petition.
Kahiu plans to take the case to the Court of appeal and Supreme Court if necessary. She has expressed her disappointment with the constitution saying “I think it is very important for us to define what freedom of expression means in Kenya as per our constitution. We are going to appeal. The ruling today is not a true reflection of what the constitution says.“
The Kenya Film Classification Board CEO, Dr. Ezekiel Mutua took to his twitter page immediately after the ruling with a sigh of relief. According to his tweet, ‘this case was not about human rights. It was about gay content, and if filmmakers can glorify homosexuality in their work’.