Behind the scenes of ‘Rafiki’ at Cannes
3 weeks ago, 19:29
We got stopped on the road, people were saying thank you, everyone resonated with the film and said it was beautiful,” says Samantha Mugatsia, who plays Kena, one of the two lead characters in the Kenyan film Rakifi that was showcased at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in France in May.
Rafiki – loosely based on the novella Jambula Tree by Ugandan author Monica Arac de Nyeko – is about a relationship between two young women in a country where homosexuality is illegal, and society is yet to come to terms with the existence of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, queers, transgenders and intersex people, commonly known as the LGBQTI community.
Rakifi, which means friend in Swahili, is banned in Kenya where it was made, and ironically when it had already been accepted for Cannes — the second most important film festival after the Oscars.
It received rave reviews and got a standing ovation that lasted 10 minutes. Actress Cate Blanchett was moved to tears by the movie and her assistant had to escort her out to have her make-up redone.
“It’s a story that can make people cry because it brings out the vulnerability in everyone,” says Mugatsia.
I met Mugatsia, tall, lanky and soft-spoken, in Westlands in Nairobi. She had just returned from Cannes, and her first observation to me was that the film festival was a world away from Nairobi.
Here there are no red carpets, no one recognising and stopping her on the streets for pictures or commenting on the film. Nairobi is a different reality. Indeed, it is.
The film is banned in Kenya despite having been given the go-ahead to proceed to full production by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB). The board banned the film even after its writer and producer Wanuri Kahiu kept the board updated.
On April 17, Eziekiel Mutua, KFCB’s chief executive went live on a local radio station supporting the film. Ten days later on April 27, Rafiki was banned.
Mutua wanted the ending of the film to be changed to the two main characters showing remorse for being in a same-sex relation, which the director Kahiu refused to do. She insisted on a happy ending because she wanted to make a happy film.
Mugatsia, born in 1992 in Nairobi, is a drummer with a local band, the Yellow Machine. She’s a final year student of law at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi.
She however put her studies on hold to do the film, much to her mother’s chagrin. “She has to complete her studies,” says her mother Grace Gitau. “She’s nearly done anyway.”
It was serendipity that got Mugatsia the role of Kena, one of the two main characters.
“I was attending an artists’ pop-in in Westlands sometime in November 2016. My friend Musa Omusi, the creator of the fashion brand Bongo Sawa (like minds) had invited me.
“I was introduced to Kahiu of Afro Bubble Gum Films. The following day, she sent me a text message after she got my mobile phone number from ...
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