Dripping in bright colours Rafiki, the latest film from Wanuri Kahiu, is a vibrant and rich tale of love and adversity. Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki’s (Sheila Munyiva) fathers may be political rivals, but that does little to stop the two young women from falling in love with each other. Spending more and more time together, their friendships begins to raise a few eyebrows in the community. The local gossip Mama Atima (Muthoni Gathecha) finds it especially curious that two rival daughters would be so close. As suspicion increases, and anti-homosexual rhetoric is preached from the church pulpit, Kena and Ziki must decide whether following their hearts is worth risking their safety.
Based on the story Jambula Tree by Monica Arac de Nyeko, Rafiki is a film that sweeps you up in the romance before hitting you with a powerful emotional punch. The script by Kahiu and Jenna Cato Bass (who directed last year’s wonderful High Fantasy), takes its time building up Kena and Ziki’s relationship. We patiently observe the passing gaze of desire between the woman, while subtly seeing how the societal stakes are raised as the two get to know each other better.
In showing us both the highs and painful lows of the duo’s relationship, Kahiu’s confident direction effectively exposes the hypocrisy within Kenya’s ultra religious society. The same individuals who condemn homosexuality as being something “unclean” turn a blind eye the brutal mob mentality that routinely inflicts violence on LGBT individuals. Despite highlighting the great price that many in the LGBT community must pay for being true to their sexual identity, Kahiu still manages to offer a colourful ray of hope that love will find a way to break through the darkness.
Sunday, September 16, 11:45 AM, Scotiabank