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Seven days of Rafiki

When a temporary injunction was granted to the controversial Kenyan film, Rafiki, by the High Court, the film’s director and producer, Wanuri Kahiu, was overcome with relief and shared on social media, “I am crying. In a French airport.

In SUCH Joy! Our constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression!!!! WE DID IT! We will be posting about Nairobi screening soon (sic).”

Rafiki, which was banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), was allowed by the court a seven-day screening window in local cinemas. On the film’s debut in Nairobi, it was a sold-out affair.

The director had filed a lawsuit against KFCB over what she termed an infringement on her “rights to be creative and exercise work”.

Putting a lid on the film meant that it couldn’t be submitted for the prestigious Oscars Awards. For any film to be considered for nomination in the Academy of Motion Picture Awards, local screening of not less than seven days is a prerequisite.

The Oscars Selection Committee in Kenya showed exceptional leniency to Rafiki and brought it aboard for deliberation alongside Supa Modo and Njata. Only one of them would be chosen to bid for an Oscar on Kenya’s behalf.

A statement released by the committee on Friday read in part, “Due to the subsequent extenuating circumstances, the Selection Committee made a decision to break the set deadline and admit the film Rafiki for consideration.”

After reviewing the three films, Supa Modo was selected as the local film that would represent Kenya and vie against other international pictures for the Best Foreign Language Film category in the 91st edition of Oscar Awards in 2019. Wanuri didn’t hesitate to celebrate with the film’s director, Likarion Wainaina, on social media.

It has been a long battle for freedom of artistic expression for Wanuri. As the temporary lift is again reinstated, the local audience has been left to judge after the much-anticipated screenings across the country. The third showing at Goethe Institute on Tuesday was fully packed.

Rafiki’s storyline follows two young girls, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), whose budding romantic relationship defies their fathers’ political rivalry.

Their love is, however, profoundly scrutinised and brutalised by the community. With a rich and privileged background, Ziki has whisked away from her lover and shipped to London.

Kena is left to bear the taunting of the world around her and has to put up with a mother who doesn’t accept her. Kena’s parents are separated, but that does not stop her father from unconditionally supporting her.

With a nuanced touch, Rafiki (an adaptation of Jambula Tree, a 2007 short literary tale by Uganda’s Monica Arac De Nyeko) exposes the hypocrisy looming in the church and its deliberate failure to holistically address social vices such as the violence meted out on Kena and Ziki by a mob.

The church’s bias involvement in politics is displayed in subtle shots. Rafiki’s plot is an interwoven story that epitomises Nairobi and features day-to-day relatable life experiences in the city.

It canvasses the (economic) struggles, disproportionate politics of power, class and privilege, love, visionaries, hard-working Kenyans, parenting challenges and a peek at mob justice. It’s a jarring cannon depicting the country’s political, socio-cultural and economic disposition.

As people await the verdict on Wanuri’s lawsuit against KFCB, she continues to headline screenings of the film abroad. She has showcased it at 2018 Cannes Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festivals, among others.

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