Banned Kenyan film Rafiki film tops Kenya’s box office in limited screening run

Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu’s film, Rafiki, was banned from cinemas by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) for promoting same-sex relationships. In the film, a love blossoms between two friends as they support one another to pursue their wildest dreams in their conservative society.

In order for a film to be eligible for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, it must have had a run in movie theatres in its country. In response to this Kahiu sued the KFCB saying it would be damaging to her career.

The court agreed to lift the ban for a seven day period.

According to press releases, in the week that the film was unbanned, by making $33,000 in gross earnings, Rafiki became the second highest grossing Kenyan film of all time.

More than 6500 people flocked to cinemas in Kenya and hundreds were turned away with theatres reaching full capacity. A representative from the films distributor in Kenya, Trushna Patel said “Over a 7 day release, Rafiki has experienced a rush at Prestige Cinema only felt before at the Black Panther release earlier this year. Even though there was limited screen time allotted at the last minute after the court ruling, the film was performing to full house capacity at all shows running, a welcome scene for a Kenyan film.”


For now, Kahiu and the Creative Economy Working Group, which deals with the advancement of the creative and cultural economy sector in Kenya, continue to battle for freedom of expression to be practiced as it is envisioned in the country’s constitution. Kahiu’s lawyer Sofia Leteipan said “The ongoing case provides an opportunity for the courts to give meaning, progressively interpret and to breathe life into the Constitutional guarantee of the right to freedom of expression, that includes artistic creativity.’’

Rafiki opens in theatres in South Africa in 2019. 

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Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa studies Digital Democracy, New Media and Political Activism, and Digital Politics.

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