Kenyan director, Wanuri Kahiu, has broken into Netflix’s top 10 ranked movies with her film Look Both Ways. The film, which was released on 17 August, is currently ranked second on the top 10 movies on Netflix globally, while it is the number one film in 61 countries including Kenya, Canada, Bolivia, Sweden, and the UK.
The film centers around a young woman, played by Hollywood actress Lili Reinhart, who takes a pregnancy test just before her college graduation. The audience then sees two different scenarios: one where the test is positive and she becomes a young mother, and an alternative story where the test is negative and she instead moves to Los Angeles to pursue her career ambitions.
Speaking about working on the film, Kahiu told Variety in an interview: “I believe in parallel lives and multiple existences, and it really appealed to me.”
In Look Both Ways, Kahiu makes several nods to her Kenyan heritage. In one scene, Hollywood actress Nia Long is dancing to a Swahili song by Kenyan musician, producer, and DJ ‘Blinky’ Bill Sellanga, called ‘Bado Mapema (Simama)’.
“Nia Long dancing to my song in this movie has made my year,” tweeted Blinky. “Look Both Ways up and up.”
Many Kenyans have been voicing their support for Kahiu on social media, describing it as ‘a win’ for the country.
Look Both Ways is Kahiu’s third feature film, but her first Hollywood project. Her previous films have focused on stories from Kenya, including Rafiki, which centered around a lesbian romance. The film was temporarily banned in Kenya in 2019 due to its “homosexual theme.”
Despite this, “Rafiki” received international acclaim and it was the first film from Kenya to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. Her film From a Whisper—about the 1998 US embassy twin bombings in Kenya and Tanzania—also won best screenplay at the Africa Movie Academy Awards back in 2009.
Speaking about African filmmaking in a previous TEDTalk, Kahiu coined a term and started a movement called ‘Afrobubblegum’ saying the continent needs to tell more stories which are ‘vibrant’, and that the ‘danger of the single story is still being realized.’
Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Kahiu studied in the UK and the US, before returning to Kenya, where she currently resides.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, you have the ability to direct human experiences, because all human experiences are similar,” Kahiu said in an interview with Variety. “A young woman going through this is the same as a young woman in any other part of the world. At the end of everything, we’re the same underneath it all.”