scene from the film RAFIKI
scene from the film RAFIKI

Bursting with the colorful street style and music of Nairobi’s vibrant youth culture, Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki (2018) is a tender love story between two young women in a country that still criminalizes homosexuality. Kena and Ziki (played by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva) have long been told that “good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives.”

Meanwhile, they both yearn for something more. Despite the political rivalry between their families, the girls encourage each other to pursue their dreams in a conservative society. When love blossoms between them, Kena and Ziki are forced to choose between happiness and safety. This moving, English- and Swahili-language film is based on “Jambula Tree,” an award-winning short story by the Uganda writer Monica Arac de Nyeko. 

Initially banned in Kenya for its positive portrayal of queer romance, Rafiki won a landmark supreme court case that helped chip away at Kenyan anti-LGBT legislation. The film was the first Kenyan feature film to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival 2018 as part of the Official Un Certain Regard selection.

Part of the series African Languages, Literatures, and Film, sponsored by the Institute for African Development at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies

The film also features as part of our New Queer Cinema series, which is cosponsored by the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and the LGBT Resource Center at Cornell.