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Kenya has banned a documentary for portraying a same-sex relationship

From behind, two men carrying plastic bags walk on a dusty path, with one's hand on the other's shoulder.
Peter Murimi
In Kenya, gay sex is punishable by 14 years in prison.
  • Carlos Mureithi
By Carlos Mureithi

East Africa correspondent

Published

Kenya has banned a documentary film about a gay relationship, saying it promotes same-sex marriage, in a country where gay sex is outlawed.

Describing the film, I am Samuel, as “an affront” to the country’s constitution, the Kenya Film Classification Board said in a statement on Sept. 23 that it noted “clear and “deliberate” attempt by the film’s producer to advocate for same-sex marriage as “an acceptable way of life.” The board has prohibited the film from exhibition, distribution, possession and broadcasting in the country.

“From our analysis, the documentary propagates values that are in dissonance with our constitution, culture, values and norms,” KFCB’s acting CEO, Christopher Wambua, said.

In a statement to Quartz, I am Samuel producer Toni Kamau expressed dismay about the ban.

“We were deeply saddened by the discriminatory language used in the KFCB press conference and press conference to describe the lived experiences of people who allowed us into their lives. Observational documentaries give us a greater understanding of what it means to be human,” Kamau said.

“We believe in freedom of expression. Diverse experiences is what makes our world so rich,” she added.

Happening just three years after the board banned another Kenyan film about a same-sex relationship, Rafiki, the move raises more questions about censorship, freedom of speech and colonial-era laws in the east African country. In Rafiki’s case, its producer, Wanuri Kahiu, appealed the ban in court, but the court refused to lift it.

Colonial-era law outlaws gay sex in Kenya

Gay people face discrimination and persecution in Kenya, where the topic is taboo and a law dating back to British colonial rule prohibits gay sex, describing it as “against the order of nature.” Those found guilty can be imprisoned for up to 14 years. In 2019, a Kenyan court upheld the law after activists and rights tried to have it deemed unconstitutional.

In I am Samuel, which is directed by Peter Murimi, a young gay man navigates daily life in Kenya, trying to balance acceptance from his family, and his love for his male partner.

“This film is important because it will allow Kenyans to have constructive dialogue about LBGTQ rights in Kenya,” Murimi said in a statement in reaction to the ban. “The film demonstrates how much we have in common. We all fall in love, we all contend with family expectations…the biggest difference is, Samuel, our main character had to also reckon with homophobia and violence.”

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