by Noe Kamelamela
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 13, 2019

Given its subject matter, the romance between two close female friends in Kenya, the ban against "Rafiki" in that country was not surprising. In Kenya, gay sex is punishable with up to 14 years in jail. Still, "Rafiki" hit the film festival circuit last year and won several awards, including being the first Kenyan film to ever be presented at the Cannes Film Festival. Undeniably, that kind of international acclaim allowed the director to sue her own government to lift the ban temporarily for the purpose of allowing the film to be eligible for international film awards last year.

The romance in question plays out against the backdrop of Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, as Kena and Ziki are at the start of becoming young women. Rafiki is the Swahili word for friend, and they both befriend each other quickly, before realizing that their friendship is becoming more than what the people around them would deem acceptable. Kena is on the verge of heading to university, and Ziki is still deciding what she'd like to do with the rest of her adult life. With their endlessly gossipy neighborhood and family rivalries, they have to keep their relationship as hidden as possible. When they fail, the impact they've both had on each other's lives still remains even though they are forced to be apart for the good of both of their families, as well as for their own health and safety.

The landscapes are gorgeous, filled frequently with mixtures of color and texture that are less tied to the overall story and more about the natural and human-made beauty of Nairobi, Kenya. Kena and Ziki's clothing are youthful, street-inspired clothing that are pleasing and slightly childish. Similar to Kahiu's other work, frank and authentic depictions of political ideology, religion and cultural norms pepper "Rafiki" such that even when scenes are awkward or uncomfortable, the context surrounding them is clear. Still, folks not familiar with modern Kenyan history may miss references which the production makes every effort to render as transparent as possible. One can only hope that this love story will lead the way for LGBTQ+ individuals of Kenya to argue for equal treatment even as this film is a tribute to those individuals who have been forced to leave or have perished as a result of falling in love.

English, Swahili with English subtitles
DVD & Streaming

Noe Kamelamela is a reader who reads everything and a writer who writes
very little.

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