Film Review: Rafiki – at the Africa in Motion Film Festival


In 2018 Wanuri Kahiu co-wrote and directed the film Rafiki, which was first released in Kenya, her home country, and shortly thereafter banned in it. Based on a Kenyan short story published in 2007, it is one of the first lesbian themed Kenyan films. Rafiki (Swahili for “friend”) tells the cliched love story of Kenna and Ziki, two girls from a small village who fall in love and struggle with hardships of homophobia.

Rafiki is a piece of art which will please your aesthetic senses. Since I watched Rafiki I have been listening to the beautiful score, mostly comprised of dreamy, Kenyan pop. The movie is full of colourful facades in the background, vibrantly patterned clothing, and bright hair and lipsticks. The motif of filming through vertical frames such as half-opened doors, stairwell railings, and beaded curtains, as well as images such as a single bird flying through a lilac sky,  remain in my mind.

The editing is also visually innovative; in scenes showing intimate conversations between Ziki and Kenna, the sound continues the conversation, while the camera switches between portraying romantic moments of silence and the present heated conversation. This creative exploration left me breathless, caught in the words whilst marvelling at the beauty of their interactions.

Despite its compelling cinematography, the story of Ziki and Kenna is a clichéd love-story; with their fathers being political rivals and a simple love-at-first-sight scene. They both very quickly know the other’s feelings, without worrying about the possibility of rejection, which is, especially for a love story between two women in a homophobic village, unrealistic.

However, this is a fairy-tale, and a beautiful one, too. Rafiki still shows real-world struggles of homophobia and sexism. The two girls keep their relationship a secret until it is discovered, leading to turmoil in the little village, including religious rituals to scare away their daemons. Sexism is explored in conversations between Ziki and Kenna, in which they discuss the expectations of women, and how they want to break free from these.

Rafiki tells a difficult story of love between two women and their roles in a Kenyan village. It is a piece of art made with a lot of care for detail, although it is quite clichéd. If you get the chance, see it! And either way, listen to the soundtrack!

[Leilo Albrecht]

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