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Kenya lifts ban on lesbian film ‘Rafiki’ so it qualifies for the Oscars

The Kenyan government ruled that the film can be screened for seven days to qualify for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars.

By Fabio Crispim

Kenya has lifted a ban on a lesbian film so it can qualify for the Oscars. 

Rafiki, which means “friend” in Swahili, was banned in the country because it features a lesbian storyline in which two best friends form a relationship. 

The critically acclaimed film, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, was banned earlier this year by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) due to its “homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law”.

However, director Wanuri Kahiu sued the Kenyan government to get her film released for seven days in order to qualify for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars. 

She won her case yesterday (September 21) and the Kenyan government will lift the ban on Rafiki between September 23 and 30 to make it eligible for Oscar consideration. 

According to Kenyan news outlet The Star, Judge Wilfrida Okwany ruled that only adults would be able to see the film during its seven-day run, adding: “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film.”

Dudley Ochiel, Kahiu’s lead attorney, described the ruling as “a win for the freedom of expression and artistic creativity in Kenya”. 

He also claimed that Judge Okwany “understood the issues and also questioned the justification for a total ban, including for Kenyan audiences.” 

Rafiki will premiere in the UK during the London Film Festival next month. Watch the trailer below: