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Kenyan Judge Lifts Ban on LGBT Film ‘Rafiki,’ Enabling It to Qualify for Oscars

A Kenyan judge has temporarily lifted the ban on Wanuri Kahiu’s “Rafiki,” paving the way for the LGBT love story – which premiered in Cannes – to be submitted for the foreign-language Oscar race.

In her ruling, Judge Wilfrida Okwany said Friday she was “not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film.” She added that “one of the reasons for artistic creativity is to stir the society’s conscience even on very vexing topics such as homosexuality,” which, she noted, “did not begin with ‘Rafiki.’”

The film tells the story of two teenage girls whose romance is opposed by their families and community. It was adapted from Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko’s short story “Jambula Tree,” which was awarded the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing in 2007.

Friday’s ruling overturned a decision by the Kenya Film Classification Board, which in April banned “Rafiki” from local theaters over what CEO Ezekiel Mutua described as its depiction of “homosexual practices that run counter to the laws and the culture of Kenyan people.” Mutua also suggested that the movie was an attempt to “legitimize lesbianism” in the East African nation, where homosexuality is illegal.

Kahiu filed a lawsuit against the film board on Sept. 11, contending that banning the film violated her constitutional right as an artist to free speech and free expression. She also sued for 8.5 million Kenyan shillings (around $84,200) in compensation for projected lost revenues from a local theatrical run.

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By lifting the ban for a week, the judge’s decision opens the door for “Rafiki” to be submitted for the foreign-language Oscar race, which requires that nominees must be shown in their country of origin for seven consecutive days. The deadline for submissions is Sept. 30.

Speaking to Variety before the ruling was announced, Kahiu said: “The petition against the Kenya Film Classification Board is larger than ‘Rafiki’’s theatrical run. It’s the fight for our right to work in creative spaces and our constitutional rights as artists to freedom of expression and freedom of creativity. Our ability to express ourselves and tell stories is truly what makes us human. Silencing us won’t change that.”

Kahiu was preparing to board a flight in Paris when she received the news, tweeting: “I am crying. In a french airport. In SUCH Joy! Our constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression!!!! WE DID IT!”

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