38 year Wanuri Kahiu has made a total of six films in addition of being both a producer and author in her home country Kenya. With Rafiki the director got her international breakthrough. The film was screened at the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Festival, and received praise from both the audience and the critics.
The film takes place in the outskirts of the capitol Nairobi, where we meet Kena, who works in her father’s grocery store. She fells in love with Ziki, and relationship between the two young girls starts to grow in the conservative and traditional society that surrounds them. To make the situation even more difficult, the girls fathers are running against each other in the local election.
– When making Rafiki we really wanted to tell the story through a colour palette. We would show not only the innocence and joy, but also the discovery for the two girls. And later, the colours reflect what’s happening to the girls, and how their world changes.
When it comes to the music, Kahiu explains that it was an effort to make the audience hear what Nairobi sounds like. All the music in the film is created by young Nairobian women under the age of 35.
How was it to premiere at the Cannes Festival?
– I think for any filmmaker is such an honour to be acknowledged in such prestigious festival as Cannes, because your name really becomes a name of cinematic history. You walk down the same red carpet as many legendary filmmakers have walked down, so you really actively become a part of the film history. That is truly the greatest feeling. And to have your film premier in such a place is incredible and has only made me want to make sure that I make more film that can open in the main competition.
Which directors inspire you?
-Melanie Laurant’s (Respire, Galveston) was a great inspiration when creating Rafiki. I really like the way she treats relationship and closeness of characters. Every time I create films I look at filmmakers who have made great film in the same genre.
Can you describe the film industry in Kenya?
– The film industry in Kenya is really small, but quite vibrant. We are really interested in creating independent voices. A lot of the films makers who are coming up in the country are so interesting and get in to new genres like African futurism. I would say it is definitely one to watch for the future.
Did you get surprised when the film was banned in Kenya?
– I was very disappointed when the film was banned in Kenya. It was such so unfortunate, because we have a strong constitution that allows us freedom expression. On the other side, the constitution is quite young, se we are stilling have to work it, and learn the limitation and the strength of it. We are exited to by a part of the generation of people who get to implement the constitution. So when the film was banned, it was very upsetting the people didn’t recognized that we have fought as artists for rights to be able to speak.
Which reception has the film received in the LGBT community in Kenya?
–When the ban of Rafiki was lifted for seven days, the Kenyan audience got an opportunity to watch it, and the LGBT community really engaged and came out and supported the film. We got lots of support, and we really think that it began conversations in spaces that don’t often have conversations about freedom of love and expression. We are really glad that the film is beginning to push does boundaries, and even have uncomfortable conversations in safe places.
How common is Kena’s father more liberal approach to a relationship between two women in Kenya/Nairobi?
– Like in any countries, there are so many different people in Kenya, both conservative and liberal. There are many men who are like Kena’s father, but also conservative fathers like Ziki’s. Kenya is a diverse country, and the film was a reflection of the different kinds of people in the country.
Will you continue to make films in Kenya?
– I live in Kenya, this is the country that inspires me the most, and I live and breath for the people. I will always continue to make films in Kenya, and I will always continue to make films about Kenya.