By Ryan Keating-Lambert
What makes Rafiki a rather groundbreaking film is its ability to breathe new life into your stereotypical queer drama through a change of scenery and political statements.
Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, Rafiki (meaning ‘friend’) tells the story of Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), lovers and daughters of rival politicians who struggle to maintain a relationship in the homophobic surroundings of their Kenyan town.
The fact that this is the first Kenyan film, directed by a woman no less, that has ever made it into Cannes is an achievement in itself. Kahiu set out to make a love story for the Kenyan people, a love story that most of us take for granted, but one that the Kenyan people have never been fully comfortable expressing, and the director succeeds admirably.
Rafiki tackles awkward taboos that Kenya, and other African countries, refuse to bring to light. Kena and Ziki’s relationship is relatable and threatened by classism as much as it is by homophobia. Clearly, Kenyan society has some deep-seeded issues that Kahiu addresses well through her storytelling and vibrant visuals.
The execution of such a sensitive subject would have benefited with a bit more fine-tuning of the script which feels a bit clunky at times, and our two leads appear to feel awkward in the roles, especially in some of the more intimate scenes. In saying that though, there’s nothing particularly profound or fascinating about their characters to work with. It seems they’re just there to push the appropriate political buttons, which they more or less succeed in doing.
Despite its flaws, Rafiki is still worth a watch at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. It’s stunning use of colour, music and politics make it a worthwhile addition to the festival. In a nutshell, it’s a teen drama that is way better at being controversial and pretty than it is at being original.