THE REEL: Rafiki challenges society's view on relationships

A poster of the movie "Rafiki". PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Rafiki’s cinematography is one of the many highlights of the movie.
  • You can talk about the vibrancy in the colours, the shots and angles and the steady camera work that doesn’t make your head ache at the end of the day.
  • However, I felt like it was a far-fetched notion to portray the Kenyan society as highly intolerable to the LGBTQ community.
  • Do you have feedback on this story? E-mail: [email protected]

After many months of back and forth between the Kenya Films Classification Board (KFCB) and movie director Wanuri Kahiu about her movie, the High Court on September 2, 2018 lifted the ban on Rafiki for it to be screened in theatres locally for seven days.

On Tuesday evening, I made my way to Goethe Institut to catch the press screening of the movie, that would include some of the cast being in the audience.

We were supposed to start the movie at “6.30 SHARP” our invite read, but then this is Nairobi. It started just after 7pm.

Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is a girl from a modest background. She is a tomboy, she loves skating, playing soccer, and hanging out with her boys Blacksta (Neville Misati) and Waireri (Charlie Karumi).

She also helps out her dad at his shop when she’s needed to and basically takes care of her mum.

Her dad, John Mwaura (Jimmy Gathu), is running for the MCA seat in their ward – Slopes Ward. He is separated from Kena’s mother Mercy (Nini Wacera), who is a staunch churchgoer and believes prayer remedies everything.

With all that’s going on around her, Kena is actually in a very lonely place. While she’s there for everyone who needs her when they need her, she doesn’t seem to have anyone who would have her back should she chooses to reveal who she really is.


Kena is attracted to women, but everyone in her community is strongly against homosexuality. Her friend Waireri is extremely homophobic and gets very vile whenever the neighbourhood’s known gay man (played by Vitalis Waweru) is around where he is. Kena sees Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) and she feels a very deep attraction to her.

Ziki is the daughter to the current Slopes MCA, Peter Okemi (Dennis Musyoka), and Rose Okemi (Patricia Amira). Her family is well-to-do and she hangs out with her two best friends, who also seem to be from a similar background.

She is a rebellious teenager who wants things done how and when they should be done.

Unlike Kena, she has an eye for fashion and makeup and is not afraid to express herself, damn what everyone else thinks.

With their fathers in a political tug of war, the two girls’ friendship catches the curiosity of the people in the neighbourhood but more so that of neighbourhood gossip, Mama Atim (Muthoni Gathecha).

She and her daughter Nduta (Nice Githinji) are always out looking for the “juice” of things, and this is one of those things they want to be on top of when it goes out.

The friendship between Ziki and Kena finally blossoms into a love affair and they have to navigate the tricky waters of being with each other while not letting anyone suspect that something is going on between them.

How will they keep it under wraps and, if it does come out that they are in love, how will the community and their parents handle it?

Rafiki’s cinematography is one of the many highlights of the movie. You can talk about the vibrancy in the colours, the shots and angles and the steady camera work that doesn’t make your head ache at the end of the day like most local series and movie producers do nowadays.

It just shows the prowess of Kahiu as the director. She was also aided by a team of producers and co-producers led by Steven Markovitz.

Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu, actresses Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva pose on May 9, 2018 during a photocall for the film "Rafiki" at the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. PHOTO | LOIC VENANCE | AFP


The story was played out very well most of the time.

I was especially drawn to the character of Kena. This was Samantha’s first stab at acting and boy did she land it.

Wanuri had seen her while she was drumming at a concert for The Yellow Light Machine and saw her fitting the character perfectly. After having gone through a month of acting boot camp, the vision Wanuri saw is clear to the audience. Her character is a smart, sweet and caring person.

I almost believed the naivety and innocence she portrayed in the movie was truly her real self. I hurt with her character and rejoiced with her too. I felt her conflict when she was at crossroads and heaved sighs of relief with her.

Also, the soundtrack was amazingly put together and set the tone for a lot of the scenes. Mama Atim and Nduta are quite the characters and bring many light moments to this movie with a really heavy subject.

The movie definitely sets the tone for conversation on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community and the level at which they are accepted in our society.

I felt like it was a far-fetched notion to portray the Kenyan society as highly intolerable to these individuals. That there is a resistance to queer persons is not disputed. Kenya, like many societies, and not just African ones, has a hard time reconciling with the thought of it.

However, that whole communities, with not a dissenting voice among them, would go out of their way to make the lives of queer individuals a living hell is just unreal.

Maybe that the story is based on a different perspective, which would explain that.

Undeniably, there have been people who have faced verbal, sexual and violent abuse on the basis of being queer, but I don’t agree that in Kenya there is a general consent to such action.

The fact that many have come out to embrace this movie shows just how accepting or at least tolerating Kenyans are towards that community.


My other fault with the movie is that it was too short; it ran just about an hour. But with all that was going on, I felt that things had to be rushed through.

Ziki and Kena’s connection was faster than instant coffee. There’s a scene where Kena is chasing Ziki and her friends because they were defacing her father’s campaign posters.

When she finally catches up to Ziki, who can’t run as fast as her friends, they just stop and stare at each other longingly. It seemed like a forced love scene to me. I have said it before that I am not one for the love stories, so I may not be the best one to judge this.

That KFCB would say that this was a graphically sexual movie is beyond anyone who’s had the chance to watch it. I was so sure clothes were going to be torn off bodies and I had my pretend hand-to-my-eye-with-the-index-finger-letting-my-left-eye-see-it-all on the ready. But alas, this wasn’t to be.

Only they can explain to us why they really did not want us to watch the movie.

You still have until Sunday to catch it in theatres in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa.


Do you have feedback on this story? E-mail: [email protected]