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Kenya Picks Berlinale Crowd-Pleaser ‘Supa Modo’ as Its Oscar Hopeful

Likarion Wainaina’s “Supa Modo,” about a mother determined to bring joy to her dying daughter’s last days, is Kenya’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar race. The film, which world premiered in the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus program last February, was selected by the Kenya Film Commission on Friday.

Produced by Tom Tykwer’s Kenyan shingle, One Fine Day Films, and Kenya’s Ginger Ink, “Supa Modo” is the uplifting tale of a terminally ill girl whose village comes together to fulfill her dreams of becoming a superhero, convincing her she has special powers and casting her as the star of her very own movie. The film, which stars veteran actors Maryanne Nungo and Nyawara Ndambia alongside newcomer Stycie Waweru, earned a Children’s Jury Special Mention in Berlin.

“Supa Modo” is the sixth feature from One Fine Day Films and Ginger Ink, and their third Oscar hopeful, after 2012’s “Nairobi Half Life,” directed by Tosh Gitonga, and “Kati Kati,” by Mbithi Masya, which was submitted to the Academy last year. “Supa Modo” has enjoyed a lively run since its Berlin premiere, screening at more than 30 festivals around the globe.

“It’s been a very trying time for film and freedom of expression in this country,” said Ginger Wilson of Ginger Ink. “I hope this little film with a big heart catches the attention of the Academy and disproves the notion that feel-good films are impossible contenders for this category.”

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For a country not known as a cinematic powerhouse, the race for this year’s Oscar nod in Kenya was surprisingly competitive, with “Supa Modo” beating out Wanuri Kahiu’s “Rafiki,” the lesbian love story that was banned by the Kenyan government just weeks before its world premiere in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. The country’s film classification board said the film was an attempt to “legitimize lesbianism” in the East African nation, where homosexuality is illegal.

Last week, a judge temporarily lifted the ban, opening 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 straight days. The film has played to sold-out screenings all week.

Kahiu tweeted her congratulations to the “Supa Modo” team after hearing the news on Friday. “What joy!!! We celebrate this beautifully, [sic] magical film,” she wrote.

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