Ban on film depicting women's love story to resume in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya — The first Kenyan feature film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival has gotten overwhelming audience support since a court temporarily lifted a ban imposed by censors over the film's gay content, a lawyer said Friday.

"Rafiki" went from being screened once a day in one theater in Nairobi on Sept. 22 to three daily screenings at theaters in three of Kenya's largest cities as of Friday, attorney Sofia Leteipan said.

Leteipan represents director Wanuri Kahiu, who made "Rafiki." The court ruled that the film, a love story featuring two women, could be viewed locally for one week to make it eligible for Oscar contention. The ban will resume after Sunday showings.

Ezekiel Mutua, the head of the Kenya Film Classification Board, has said that only "a small portion" of the country's population has seen it.

"There is no market for homosexual movies in Kenya. Is there value for money in making a homosexual movie that will be watched by 300 out of 44 million people?" Mutua said in an interview on Citizen Television earlier in the week.

Leteipan said that although Rafiki was not nominated for an Oscar, its screening across Kenya is a "huge win for the articulation of freedom of expression."

She said that after the ban resumes, "we'll still be in court pursuing the original petition to have the ban permanently lifted and strike out provisions of Films and Stage Plays Act which restrict freedom of expression and constrain creativity."

After watching the film, gay activist Immah Reid said "Rafiki" is a "well-structured conversation starter for sexuality in Kenya ... how gender appears and the violence people who don't conform to gender rules end up going through."

Gays and lesbians in many parts of Africa face severe harassment, physical threats and judicial punishment. It is illegal to have same-gender sex in Kenya and most African countries. A constitutional court in Uganda, which neighbors Kenya to the west, annulled legislation for life in prison for some gay acts.

Kenya's National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is currently in court arguing that sections of the penal code violate the constitution and deny basic rights by criminalizing consensual same-sex relations between adults.

Maureen Nyambura, a university student and budding actress, said a movie in which the played a lesbian scene was banned and it is progress that "Rafiki" is being seen in a society that often doesn't tolerate different sexualities.

"You don't have to be a woman to fall in love with a man and vice versa. It's time Kenya embraces sexual diversity," she said.

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