We're lucky to have Rafiki. The lesbian love story has been banned in its home country of Kenya, which lends an all-too-real resonance to the violent intolerance depicted in the film. And while a number of technical and narrative faults let it down, Rafiki's fearless storytelling and its bold, vibrant heart ultimately delivers an enriching cinematic experience.
The film opens in Nairobi as the free-spirited Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) meets local cool-girl Ziki (Sheila Munyiva). In a playful Romeo and Juliet twist, both are daughters of rival local politicians, adding another opposing force against their blossoming romance – as if their country's repressive laws weren't enough.
Clunky dialogue and logic leaps weaken the first half, as well as a strange editing technique deployed during intimate scenes. The audience stirred when this first happened; many, myself included, believed it was a projection issue. But past the halfway mark, Rafiki blossoms. Director Wanuri Kahiu frames Kena and Ziki with respect and empathy, and Mugatsia and Munyiva both pull off captivatingly heartfelt performances.
For all its flaws, Rafiki is so brimming with love and colour that it's impossible to dislike. It's a vital addition to queer cinema, and offers an inspiring antidote to the bigotry that still persists in our world today.
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Cast: Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva
Director: Wanuri Kahiu
Running Time: 83 minutes
Rating: M (Violence & offensive language)
Verdict: Imperfect - but a poignant addition to the fabric of queer cinema
When: Rafiki screens again on Friday July 27, 4:15pm, at the ASB Waterfront Theatre.