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Kenya Film and Classification Board bans 'I Am Samuel' film about LGBTQ Kenyans

The documentary tells the story of Samuel and Alex, a gay couple in Kenya, over five years

2021-09-24

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Samuel playing netball with his friends as the sun sets on Nairobi and poster (all pics provided)

The Kenyan film authority has banned a documentary film about LGBTQ Kenyans from being shown, saying it promotes values that go against the country’s culture.

I Am Samuel was shot over five years and tells the story of Samuel who lives and works in Nairobi, and his partner, Alex. It also explores Samuel’s relationship with his parents, traditional farmers who are keen for him to get married and settle down.

The Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) said on Thursday (23 September) that the film was being banned due to a “clear and deliberate attempt to promote same-sex marriage agenda as an acceptable way of life.”

“It is unfortunate”

The KFCB’s acting Chief Executive, Christopher Wambua, said the film “blatantly violates” the country’s penal code and Films and Stage Plays Act.

In Kenya, homosexual acts can be punished with up to 14 years in prison. In 2019, the country’s High Court kept a colonial-era law punishing homosexuality intact.

Wambua also criticised the film’s foreign backers saying they should invest in content that is “aligned with the laws”. He also warned people of the impact such a film could apparently have on children, adding the documentary “could easily expose vulnerable groups, including children, to unsuitable content.”

Reacting to the news, the film’s producer Toni Kamau said, “It is unfortunate that a film that so clearly depicts the life of a normal Kenyan man would be restricted in Kenya. The film shows that life and its struggles are truly the same for us all, regardless of our sexuality.”

The film’s multiple award-winning filmmaker, Pete Murimi, said of the film: “It will allow Kenyans to have constructive dialogue about LGBTQ rights in Kenya. 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. We are very privileged that Samuel invited us into his life and allowed us to share it with the world. We are also grateful to his parents for opening up their home to us.”

“Tolerance will spread”

Writer Lerone Clarke-Oliver spoke to Kamau, Murini, and Samuel for Attitude earlier this year. Samuel, who has now left Kenya, explained that he got involved in the project, which was always going to be dangerous given the situation in Kenya, because: “It is important for us to be seen,” and that “it shows queerness that is not threatening.”

“As more gay people come out, tolerance will spread,” is Samuel’s thinking.

The power of the documentary, said Clarke-Oliver, is that it shows a fundamentally human story that will resonate and connect with audiences all over the world regardless of their circumstances.

“The backdrop may be different, but from the monotony of work and reluctant birthday celebrations to career aspirations and patrilineal strain, the film’s themes are familiar, with chosen family at its core. It’s in these moments that we see a queer man who is, in fact, much like us,” he said.

The film has been shown at events such as Canada’s Hot Docs Documentary Festival in 2020, the BFI London Film Festival, New York’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa in 2021.

I Am Samuel will be distributed across Africa by AfriDocs and will be available for African audiences free on www.afridocs.net, starting October 2021. The film's European Premiere will be at BFI London Film Festival on 10 October 2020. Get tickets here

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