Rafiki is a film that has been in the headlines for well over a year. It made the news as the first Kenyan film in Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival, and then for being banned in its home country of Kenya. The ban was lifted temporarily to allow for 7 days of screenings to allow the film to qualify as an official entry from Kenya for the Academy Awards, however, Supa Modo was selected to represent Kenya instead.
Rafiki, the title being the Swahili word for friend, is primarily a love story, a story of illegal love. The story tells of Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), two girls with contrasting personalities, although both outgoing and confident. They resist the political rivalry between their families and remain close friends. They fall in love and are ultimately forced to choose between happiness and safety.
The film begins introducing us to the two girls, and is mostly light and cheery to begin, with the occasional reference to homophobia in society that hints at things to come, but in no way prepares the audience for what unfolds. Their loves blossoms and is portrayed as innocent, beautiful and true. I wondered while watching, how someone with no tolerance or understanding of homosexuality would have perceived this. The easygoing and mostly carefree nature of the girl’s relationship in a religious and homophobic society makes the harshness of the community’s violent reaction to it truly intense.
The young actresses portray their characters authentically and their dialogue is simple and honest. The simplicity of the dialogue throughout the film in part contributes to making it so easy to identify with the characters, the girls, their parents and close friends, who in spite of the easy dialogue develop deeply as the story evolves, and we discover unexpected sides to many of the strong characters in this film.
One more thing that made this film really special is the soundtrack, and I will be taking the time needed to discover and experience the offerings of the artists involved.
Rafiki is a film worth seeing, possibly predictable, yet this takes nothing from the beauty of the storytelling. If Kena and Ziki weren’t characters in a story, I’d want to befriend them. The film has only been shown at festivals and other special screenings in South Africa over the last year and is finally being officially released in South Africa on 30 August 2019. My advice is to go and see it, and it’s certainly a film I want to add to my collection.
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