Kenya has lifted a ban on a lesbian love story movie—just long enough to qualify for the Oscars

The chance to watch.
The chance to watch.
Image: Big World Cinema
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For only seven days, Kenyans will have the chance to watch Rafiki, the local film that has made waves around the world.

Released in April, the Kenyan Film Classification Board banned the coming-of-age story over its plot centered on a teenage lesbian couple. On Friday (Sept. 21) a High Court in Nairobi lifted the ban temporarily, allowing the film to be screened long enough to qualify for entry into the 2019 Academy Awards. The deadline for submission for foreign language feature films is Oct. 1.

“I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film,” said Justice Wilfrida Okwany.

It was the same argument made by the film’s writer and director, Wanuri Kahui, who filed a lawsuit against the classification board earlier this month. Kahui, a 2016 Quartz Africa Innovator, said her suit was about more than awards eligibility, but rather about free speech and constitutional rights in Kenya.

The film’s producers welcomed the ruling, quickly listing the screenings at Nairobi’s Prestige Plaza. They warned viewers to bring their IDs as the classification remains 18. Kahui was in Paris during the ruling, attending the film’s premiere in France and Belgium.

The ban has not stopped Rafiki’s global impact, with screenings at the Toronto Film Festival, the Helsinki International Film Festival and Berlin’s Film Ohne Grenzen festival in September alone. It was also the first Kenyan feature film screened at the Cannes Film Festival to a standing ovation, which should have been a point of pride.

Neither the ruling nor these accolades softened the board’s stance. The board banned the film because its of “homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya.” Classification board CEO Ezekiel Mutua, known as Kenya’s “censor-in-chief”, warned that police and “enforcement officers” would be out in full force, patrolling cinemas to ensure that no one in Kenya younger than 18 sees Rafiki.

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