What you need to know:
- Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu makes her debut on the Hollywood scene with her first Netflix film, Look Both Ways.
- Since its release on August 17 on Netflix, the film topped the movie chart in the country only to be dethroned a week later by The Next 365 Days.
- Kenyans showed up to support and watch the film after hearing the film director was Kenyan even if the movie is considered to appeal to women.
Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu makes her debut on the Hollywood scene with her first Netflix film, Look Both Ways.
The film, starring Hollywood A-listers Lili Reinhart as Natalie, Nia Long as Lucy, Danny Ramirez as Gabe and Aisha Dee as Cara, tells two different stories of Natalie’s life determined by the outcome of a pregnancy test.
“It’s such an honour after making Rafiki to be working on Look Both Ways, not only because of the extraordinary cast and because this is my first film outside of the continent,” said Wanuri.
It starts off with Natalie and her friend Gabe studying for their final examinations.
Her five-year plan is to move to the big city of Los Angeles with her best friend, Cara, to become an animator who makes her own movies.
The first 15 minutes of the movie expose viewers to a single reality before Natalie’s life takes two different turns all determined by a pregnancy test she took in her sorority house bathroom on the eve of her college graduation.
The split happens immediately when the timer goes off on her best friend’s phone to check the stored-bought tests.
Natalie’s life then diverges into two parallel realities as the title “Look both ways” suggests. In one reality, it comes back positive while in the other, negative.
Natalie's life diverges into two parallel realities: one in which she becomes pregnant and must navigate motherhood as a young adult in her Texas hometown, and the other in which she moves to Los Angeles to pursue her career.
In both journeys throughout her 20s, Natalie experiences life-changing love, and devastating heartbreak and rediscovers herself.
“It’s a great story to remind us all about the possibilities of our own lives when we choose to love, when we choose ourselves and when we choose what is true to us and following our heart and it was such a joy to be working with such an amazing cast on this film,” Wanuri told the Nation.
Throughout the 111-minute romance flick, scenes continue to seamlessly switch from one reality to another.
It would be easy to lose a viewer in the constant jumps from one reality to another.
Art of colour
However, Wanuri had already mastered the art of using colour to clearly differentiate the two.
“We played Los Angeles as reds and oranges and pinks, and we played Texas as the blue-green palette. The first split starts to happen the moment she gets pregnant. It was something that we wanted the audience to feel, but not necessarily notice,” Wanuri said in an interview with Variety.
The mother of two related to the story when she first read the script. “I felt it was partially my life, in the sense that I remember the exact moment I realised I was pregnant and how I literally saw my life take a parallel route,” Wanuri said.
Since its release on August 17 on Netflix, the film topped the movie chart in the country only to be dethroned a week later by The Next 365 Days.
Kenyans showed up to support and watch the film after hearing the film director was Kenyan even if the movie is considered to appeal to women.
Kenyans took to social media to appreciate Wanuri’s use of Kenyan music by incorporating Blinky Bill’s song Bado Mapema.
She alluded to her Kenyan heritage by adding a few elements to the film that represent her home country.
“So not only is there music there is some jewellery, there are some decorations of pieces of furnishing that are all Kenyan made that appear in the film and I’m so proud to be able to walk with Kenya in every one of my steps and in everything that I’m doing, because first off it’s that, what inspires me is the world that I come from and obviously that’s the place I want to come back to and continue to make films,” she said proudly.
The character Lucy, played by Nia Long was also spotted donning a couple of kitenge outfits and box braids.
The movie marks the director’s first Hollywood film but Wanuri has made a name for herself on the international scene from her first feature film, ‘From A Whisper’ which won best screenplay and director at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009.
Her film ‘Rafiki’ which was banned in Kenya due to its LGBTQ+ theme, was the first Kenyan film to be invited to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018.
The ban was lifted for a week to allow it to be viewed in the country which is a requirement for any film that is nominated for the Academy Awards popularly known as the Oscars.
“Right now I think that the possibilities are endless for any filmmaker coming into the market and it would be great to see more filmmakers moving not only through international waters but also creating more local content because this is the time to be telling stories.”
“The success of my career would not have been possible without the overwhelming support of our Kenyan audiences and I’m only hoping that this is the beginning of many more projects to come to Kenya and many more projects to be shared with the world,” she said.
Wanuri is set to direct a television mini-series - Washington Black - for 20th Century Fox and has begun principal photography.
It is an adaptation of the book by Esi Edugyan which tells the story of an 11-year-old slave boy who embarks on a globe-trotting journey of identity after fleeing a Barbados sugar plantation aboard the flying machine in the company of his master's eccentric inventor brother.
She is also attached to direct Once on an Island for Disney also based on Rosa Guy's 1985 novel My Love, My Love, or, The Peasant Girl and follows Ti Moune, a peasant girl who falls in love with a boy from a wealthy family on the other side of their island.
Apart from being a filmmaker, Wanuri is a speaker and science fiction writer.
She was named TIME’s 100 Next in 2019. She also is a cultural leader for the World Economic Forum, an advocate for Freedom of Expression, and a co-founder of Afrobubblegum which champions the need for the creation and curation of fun, fierce, and frivolous African art.