Rafiki (literally: friend)
Director: Wanuri Kahiu
Writer: Wanuri Kahiu
Based on: Monica Arac de Nyeko‘s short story Jambula Tree
Cast: Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva, Neville Misati, Nice Githinji, Muthoni Gathecha, Vitalis Waweru, Jimmy Gathu, Dennis Musyoka
Part of: Toronto International Film Festival
Seen on: 6.9.2018
Content Note: homomisia
Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) spends most of her time hanging out with her friend Blacksta (Neville Misati) or working in her father’s (Jimmy Gathu) shop. Her father is currently running for a council seat, as is Ziki’s (Sheila Munyiva) father (Dennis Musyoka). But Kena finds Ziki very intriguing and the two women become close very quickly. As love grows between them, they have to face the fact that society around them doesn’t accept homosexuality.
Rafiki is a sweet and powerful film with a very interesting setting. The political situation around the film adds another layer and makes it even more worth seeing.
When I decided to spend my summer in Canada, I tried to plan my trip so that I could go to TIFF. And when the program for it was finally announced and I saw that I would manage to see Rafiki, I was really overjoyed. The fact that the screening was on the day of my (overnight) flight to Toronto was difficult, though. All that is to say that I fell asleep for a short while during the film, but it has nothing to do with the film itself, rather it was my state of exhaustion.
Fortunately for me, the story Rafiki tells is a rather standard story of girl-meets-girl, so I could follow the film without problem despite my short nap inbetween. That I say the story is standard is by no means meant as an insult, because it works: I was very involved in Kena and Ziki and their relationship, also thanks to great performances by the two leads.
But the film profits a lot of its setting that is anything but standard. Not only was it nice to get a glimpse of life in Nairobi, making a film with a lesbian love story in a country where homosexuality is illegal is important, great and not without its dangers. The film was and is forbidden in Kenia (although they did fight for – and got – a temporary lift of the ban to qualify it for the Oscars).
The film manages the balance between being sweet and colorful and also taking society’s homomisia and its dangers seriously and showing it realistically. And while the ending is not 100% happy, it is hopeful and shows the happy end as just around the corner.
I don’t know if the film would have had the same power if it had been set in Europe or North America, but that is an irrelevant question anyway. Because the film is powerful and absolutely worth seeing.
Summarizing: strongly recommended.