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They Banned Her Film Because It Featured LGBT Characters. So She Took Them To Court — And Won.

A judge ruled that Kenyan society was not so weak that it could be shaken by a love story about two women.

Last updated on September 21, 2018, at 9:14 a.m. ET

Posted on September 21, 2018, at 5:52 a.m. ET

Wanuri Kahiu
Loic Venance / AFP / Getty Images

Wanuri Kahiu

NAIROBI — A judge has ordered a temporary lift on the ban of a film featuring a love story between two women, allowing its director to submit it for Academy Award consideration.

The ruling will allow Kenyan adults to view Wanuri Kahiu’s internationally acclaimed independent film Rafiki for the first time in the country. The movie, about two young women from opposing political backgrounds who fall in love, was banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board on April 26 for “promoting lesbianism.” Kahiu filed a lawsuit against the board on Sept. 11, claiming that banning the film violated her constitutional right to free speech and free expression as an artist.

Delivering her ruling on Friday, Justice Wilfrida Okwany said, “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film.”

Okwany added that the artistic theme or practice of homosexuality “did not begin with Rafiki.”

The decision means that Kahiu can now submit Rafiki for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars. The film — which has been shown in South Africa, Toronto, and, most notably, the Cannes Film Festival — needs to have been shown in the country where it was produced for seven consecutive days in order to be eligible.

Kahiu told BuzzFeed News via a WhatsApp message on Wednesday that her team had already begun scouting local theaters, “just in case” the ruling went in their favor.

Dudley Ochiel, the lead attorney representing Kahiu, told BuzzFeed News shortly after the decision was made that “the ruling is a win for the freedom of expression and artistic creativity in Kenya.”

Ochiel added that he thought Okwany “understood the issues and also questioned the justification for a total ban, including for Kenyan audiences.”

Kahiu received the news while waiting to board a flight.

I am crying. In a french airport. In SUCH Joy! Our constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression!!!! WE DID IT! We will be posting about Nairobi screening soon. Follow @rafikimovie

And other Kenyans on Twitter celebrated the decision, with many eager for information about when and where Rafiki will be screened.

Others directly called out the head of the film classification board, Ezekiel Mutua.

Anyone near Ezekiel [he blocked me, thankfully]? Is he okay? Is the pornstache okay? Is he worried we will all watch #Rafiki and lose our morals and ruin the country? Is he worried it will trigger a Lesbian Revolt on the proper and Christian state that's KE?

Me watching #rafiki for the 5th time knowing @EzekielMutua is hurting 😩

Ezekiel Mutua right now after High court has ruled in favor of Rafiki.

And some noted that while today's decision should not be ignored, it should not erase the violence and danger Kenyans of the LGBT community continue to face.

Celebrating the temporary ban lift on Rafiki, but also sending solidarity and positive vibes to all the womxn and men that are harmed day in and out by systematic homophobia in Kenya.

The classification board released a statement Friday afternoon saying that it would comply with the court orders, but noted that “it is a sad moment, not only to the film industry, but to all Kenyans who stand for morality, that a film that glorifies homosexuality is allowed to be the country's branding tool abroad.”

And Mutua also tweeted from his personal account, criticizing “those foreign NGOs who want to use gay content as a tool for marketing the film industry in Kenya.”

The film classification board CEO — who also went viral last year after demanding that two male lions appearing to have sex be isolated and receive counseling — added, “What pleasure, pray, does a person of a sane mind find in watching girls having sex with other girls?”

What pleasure, pray, does a person of a sane mind find in watching girls having sex with other girls?

It is unclear whether or not Rafiki involves any sex scenes.

The High Court decision comes as Kenyans await a potentially landmark ruling on the constitutionality of punishing same-sex intercourse with up to 14 years in prison. Homosexuality is not outlawed in Kenya’s constitution, which was amended in 2010. But Kenya’s penal code, which hasn’t been revised since 1976, still considers anything other than heterosexual sex a felony.

There may be some hope for former British colonies shedding such legal relics. On Sept. 6, India’s high court struck down a 157-year-old law that criminalized all sexual activity that was not heterosexual sex. Like the Kenyan penal code, India’s also considered it “against the order of nature.”


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