×

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.

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!”

More Film

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content