EXCLUSIVE: Wanuri Kahiu, the award-winning writer-director of Rafiki, a film that was banned in Kenya after the filmmaker refused to alter the film’s portrayal of a lesbian relationship and played at this year’s Cannes in Un Certain Regard, has signed with The Gotham Group. The movie was the first Kenyan film invited to Cannes before the Kenya Film Classification Board banned it.
Rafiki (which means “friend” in Swahili), tells the story of Kena and Ziki — both considered “good” Kenyan girls destined to become “good” Kenyan wives who both long for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls resist and remain close friends, supporting each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, they are forced to choose between happiness and safety.
When it was banned in Kenya, they tweeted: “Anyone found in its possession will be in breach of law.” Under national law there, gay sex carries a 14-year jail sentence. Despite the ban, it found international distribution through Orange Studios and MPM Premium.
“Wanuri Kahiu is a prodigiously talented and brilliant woman,” said Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, founder and CEO of The Gotham Group. “As an advocate for Africans, especially young women, Wanuri has established herself as a major cultural force. That she refused to edit Rafiki in any way to avoid the Kenyan ban is a testament to Wanuri’s courage and commitment to her creative vision.”
Born in Nairobi, Kahiu is part of a new generation of African storytellers receiving attention and international acclaim. Kahiu’s 2008 feature From a Whisper is based on the real events surrounding the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, for which she wrote the screenplay, won multiple awards at the Africa Academy Awards, including best director and best picture.
Her short sci-fi film, Pumzi, which she wrote and produced, is a haunting parable about a world without water, It screened at Sundance in 2010, won the Venice Film Festival’s “Award of the City of Venice,” and was named best short film at Cannes in 2010.
“In our difficult times, and I say this despite the serious themes in much of my work, I also believe film – and television – needs images of joy and frivolity as well,” said Kahiu. “My hope is that the whole dimension of the human spirit, in Africa and around the world, be reflected in my work.”
Kahiu is also the co-founder of Afrobubblegun, a media company that supports, creates and commissions fun, fierce and playful African art.