Rafiki, a film from Kenya that has been banned in its home country for “promoting” homosexuality. Because of that ban, this film has had quite the success touring around the world, hopping from one film festival to another. This time, it’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival’s turn to witness the sweet raw love between Kena and Ziki. Samantha Mugatsia plays Kena, a teenage girl living in a housing estate neighbourhood in Nairobi. The film opens with beautiful colours and a song everyone can dance to. In between the opening credits we see the cool Kena on her skateboard. Mugatsia plays her with a natural flare as if it seems like we’re watching a day in the life of herself. While she banters with her friends, her eye catches a pretty girl across the street, Ziki (played by Sheila Munyiva).
A very colourful presence, with her long pastel braids. She’s a very girly girl, that counterbalances Kena’s presence, who’s more of a tomboy. They start flirting, but there’s always a bit of an invisible wall between them. This might also have to do with the fact that their fathers are rival politicians, trying to win the upcoming local election. Them meeting each other in secret is very exciting. It’s a very familiar story, but in a different setting. The thoughtful Mugatsia and curious Munyiva are both new actresses, and you can just tell they’re ready for the big world that lays ahead of them.
Director Wanuri Kahiu wanted to infuse cinematic depictions of Africa with fun. She accomplishes that as we watch two girls fall madly in love with each other. Not caring about anything that goes on around them. Which is where the third act of the film hits hard, when the community finds out about our girls’ romance. Bigotry and homophobia are a real problem in many African countries, so watching love being corrupted by the rules of a country in desperate need of evolving, hurts in a very humane way. It also shows us the necessity of this story being shown to the world.
The beginning of the film is so fun and exciting, that you wish the ending wasn’t so anti-climactic. Let’s just hope this film reaches the screens in their home country at some point, to broaden everyone’s views. Rafiki sure is worth your while.