Rafiki (Friend)

10/10/2019 19:45.
Cert 12A

From the opening scenes of this vibrant Kenyan film the viewer is immersed in the small town life of two teenage girls on the brink of life’s discoveries. Tomboy Kena [Samantha Mugatsia] has aspirations to go to university but her attention is caught by Ziki [Sheila Munyiva] and a love affair develops in this socially conservative society where homosexuality is illegal. Director Wanuri Kahiu, following great acclaim at the Cannes film festival, was given a short dispensation to screen the film in Kenya – to full audiences – before it was banned.

“Kahiu gives the film a brightness and vibrancy that works to counterbalance the perilous waters into which Kena and Ziki are venturing.”

Steve Pond, TheWrap

Dir: Wanuri Kahiu,  Kenya, 83mins, 2018

Programme Notes

Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu, despite the certainty of her film being banned in her home country, nonetheless completed this touching and brave coming-of-age (and women-coming-out) story of two teenage girls in Nairobi, who meet and fall in love. It became the first Kenyan film to be chosen for the Cannes Film Festival official selection in the year of its release.

The excellent and credible performances of the leading actresses makes this a refreshing and memorable film, bringing to life the vibrancy of the country whilst revealing the danger to anyone who is lesbian or gay – as same-sex relationships in many parts of Africa are illegal. Within this socially conservative society, studious tomboy Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) meets Ziki (Sheila Munyira), of multi-coloured braided hair, and their friendship develops. Both girls have fathers who are standing in a local election – although with radically different political ambitions – and we see, through their behaviour and that of their wider families, the moral contradictions applying across the social and sexual divides.

The film is based on the Ugandan short story Jambula Tree by Monica Arac de Nyeko. As a result of using an African production team, the casting and scenarios have an authenticity that makes Rafiki a film that should encourage a change in traditional attitudes in the future. Wanuri Kahiu’s courageous directorial approach deserves praise and support – and a wider exposure outside the confines of the festival circuit, not least in Kenya itself.

Acknowledgements: Richard Mowe, EyeforFilm

“This fresh and courageous coming-out drama from Wanuri Kahiu deserves to be seen, especially in its home nation where, as the film shows, homophobia is rife”

Amy Taubin, Sight&Sound


  • A great film with Shakespearian tensions, a la Romeo & Juliet, and with a powerful soundtrack to boot
  • Exquisite – very sensitively handled
  • Universal issues. Powerful beliefs causing great tension but there were redeeming human frailties
  • What an insight into traditional Kenyan society
  • You can only hope this film changes minds. Alan Turing chemically castrated in Britain in the late 1940s!
  • Kena and Ziki well acted. Much food for thought
  • Colourful and emotional but rather sad. I missed some of the dialogue
  • A colourful film turning dark
  • Both films were about love
  • I’m lost for words!


A:8, B:13, C:1, D:0, E:0 to give 83% from 76% of those present.