Acclaimed lesbian film Rafiki has broken box office records in Kenya after the country’s government temporarily lifted a ban on the film.
Rafiki is the first Kenyan film to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, but was banned from release in its home country “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law.”
Writer/director Wanuri Kahiu sued, and a judge elected to lift the ban temporarily so the film can compete for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2019 Academy Awards.
In order for it be considered, it needed a domestic theatre release for at least a seven-day period, which the government allowed from September 23 to 29.
That week, Rafiki was the top performing film in the country, grossing more than $33,000 and becoming the second highest-grossing Kenyan film of all time.
The film shows love blossoming between characters Kena and Ziki, but the pair are forced to choose between their happiness and their safety.
Kahiu thanked everyone who came and watched the film, and said the team behind it was grateful.
She said the filmmakers were pursuing further court action in Kenya to have the ban lifted permanently.
“As we return to court to argue for freedom of expression, we carry you with us,” she said.
The film was warmly received at the Cannes Film Festival and this month will screen at more than a dozen festivals around the world.
“We intend to take this film to other African countries to continue to build the case that quality African films are commercially viable on our own continent,” the film’s producer Steven Markovitz said.
“The film will be re-released in Kenya, when permanently unbanned.”
The film comes as the High Court of Kenya is currently debating a British colonial-era law that criminalises “sexual acts against the order of nature,” in light of a very similar law recently struck down in India.
On October 25, the court will hear submissions from parties both in favour and against scrapping the law, Reuters recently reported.
Activists say the current ban makes it harder for the country’s LGBTIQ people to get a job, rent property or access health and education services.
A lack of legal protection for LGBTIQ Kenyans means they face frequent physical violence and sexual assaults by police and vigilantes.