Just weeks after its Toronto preem, a film that explores life in Kenya’s LGBT community was banned by that country’s government on the grounds that it “promotes homosexuality.”
“Stories of Our Lives,” a collection of five fictional vignettes based on the real-life experiences of gay Kenyans, was denied distribution and exhibition rights Oct. 3 by the Kenyan Film Classification Board, which in its ruling censored the film for “obscenity, explicit scenes of sexual activities and (for promoting) homosexuality, which is contrary to…national norms and values.”
Helmer Jim Chuchu, executive producer George Gachara, and screenwriter Njoki Ngumi said by email that while the ruling didn’t surprise them, they were still saddened by the government’s decision to ban “Stories.”
“We applied because we didn’t want to have to screen the film under the radar, as if it was something we were ashamed of,” they said. “We hoped that the board would look at the film for what it is and make a decision outside the politics.”
Homosexuality in Kenya is punishable by law — though rarely prosecuted — and has been at the center of a contentious debate in the east African nation in recent months. With “Stories,” the filmmakers — part of the Nest, a Nairobi arts collective — hoped to broaden the conversation by reflecting on the hopes, struggles and stigmas faced by members of the local LGBT community.
Aware that making the movie might subject them to both legal action and personal attacks, the filmmakers chose to remain anonymous throughout the filming, only revealing their identities at the TIFF premiere.
In their email, the filmmakers were critical of the Board’s stated mission to “safeguard national values and norms.”
“How exactly does restricting a film, thus stifling a necessary conversation about society, safeguard the national values and norms?” they wrote. “How flimsy are these national values and norms if they can be dramatically shaken by a 62-minute film?”
Since the ban, the filmmakers said they were “drowning in requests to see the film.”
“The clear disconnect between the aims of the board and the interest of Kenyans, and the assumption that Kenyan adults aren’t mature enough to watch films without needing protection from a Censor, surely requires reflection,” they wrote.
The filmmakers were given 14 days to appeal the ban, and said they are currently looking at “many options on the table.”