The decision by the Kenya Film Classification Board underscores the challenge for creators of LGBT content on a continent where local mores – and criminal codes – don’t always align with progressive values. The board announced the ban Monday, just days after it was revealed that the show’s second season would feature a key character realizing he’s gay.
Ezekiel Mutua, CEO of the ratings board, issued a statement declaring that pay-TV and free-to-air stations were prohibited from airing content “that is likely to influence children’s perceptions negatively on the institution of family.” Citing “public complaints,” Mutua said in a Facebook post that the board “has a duty to protect children from exposure to harmful film and [broadcast] content.”
The post added: “Gay Content Will Not Air in Kenya…PERIOD!”
Following the remarks, South African entertainment company MultiChoice issued a statement saying that the series “is not scheduled to air on any of the Disney channels on DStv or GOtv,” the company’s satellite and DTT platforms. It was not clear whether the decision was made in response to the film board’s ruling or if it had been made before that in light of MultiChoice’s previous run-ins with Kenyan censors.
MultiChoice could not be reached for further comment.
Njeri Gateru, the executive director of Kenya’s National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said Mutua’s decision was disappointing and an overreach of authority. “His consistent efforts to erase the narratives of queer people are sanctioned by the government, because the Kenyan government’s position has remained that queerness is a non-issue despite the continued harassment, discrimination and violence towards LGBTIQ individuals living in Kenya,” Gateru said.
The decision to ban “Andi Mack” is the latest episode in the ongoing drama over LGBT content in Kenya. Earlier this year, the film classification board pressured MultiChoice into pulling seven cartoons from the airwaves because of what Mutua described as “retrogressive and bizarre messages intended to promote the [LGBT] agenda.” MultiChoice responded by saying it “takes pride in ensuring that we comply with the law in all jurisdictions” and assuring that “all third-party suppliers are adequately briefed on country-specific regulatory requirements and provisions.” Homosexuality is a criminal offense in Kenya.
Since channel distributors typically have one broadcast feed for the entire continent, rulings such as the Kenyan film board’s have wide-ranging repercussions. The seven cartoons, including Nickelodeon’s “Loud House,” “The Legend of Korra,” and “Hey Arnold,” pulled from broadcast in Kenya wound up being removed from networks across Africa.
Similar controversies erupted in 2015, when TLC’s “I Am Jazz,” a docudrama about a transgender teen, was yanked by DStv across the continent, and last year when the second season of “I Am Cait” was pulled from the E! Entertainment channel.
The groundbreaking storyline on “Andi Mack” marks a first for Disney, which last week outlined how the new season would feature 13-year-old Cyrus Goodman (Joshua Rush) embarking on a journey of self-discovery, including about his sexuality.
“’Andi Mack’ is a story about ‘tweens’ figuring out who they are,” the company said in a statement. “[Series creator] Terri Minsky, the cast and everyone involved in the show takes great care in ensuring that it’s appropriate for all audiences and sends a powerful message about inclusion and respect for humanity.”