“I’m going to start crying,” says Wanuri Kahiu, waggling her hands and smiling. She’s telling me about a Twitter thread in which a bunch of people responded to the question “What was the happiest day of your life?” A young Kenyan woman replied: “Watching Rafiki with my mother and coming out.”
Rafiki is Kahiu’s new film – a gorgeous romance about two teenage girls falling in love in Nairobi. It’s a sweet movie, with a sex scene so tame you could watch it with an elderly relative. But in Kenya, a conservative society where 534 people were arrested for same-sex relationships between 2013 and 2017, Rafiki has been banned.
Months - Kahiu - Media - Arrest - Comments
Over the past 12 months, Kahiu has been trolled on social media, threatened with arrest and suffered endless offensive comments, sometimes from members of her own family. “I have seen the vilest of comments come out of people I love,” she says. “It’s been incredibly challenging.”
At the same time, her career is flying. Days before Rafiki was banned, it was selected for Cannes. Now she has two Hollywood projects on the go: a sci-fi series for Amazon Prime, and a gig directing Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things, in a young adult drama produced by Reese Witherspoon, making her the first African woman to get a studio deal. One article bills her as “the next Kathryn Bigelow”.
Morning - London - Hotel - Kahiu - Yesterday
We meet early in the morning in a London hotel. Kahiu flew in yesterday from Nairobi, where she lives with her husband, a cardiologist, and their two children. She looks a decade younger than her age (39), drinks peppermint tea, and speaks with focus and concentration.
Her troubles began in April last year, when the Kenya Film Classification Board demanded she edit Rafiki (which means “friend” in Swahili). “They felt it was too hopeful. They said if I...
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