Heralded as a kind of African-cinema breakthrough, banned in Kenya for encouraging homosexuality and finally becoming the first Kenyan film accepted by the Cannes Film Festival, Rafiki is…well, pretty good. Set in low-rent Nairobi, it’s a nicely finessed lesbian love story that plays in familiar ways.
Wanuri Kahiu‘s second film is good and winning but in a mild (but not meh) sort of way. The lovers, Kena and Ziki (Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva), are daughters of opposing political candidates, which obviously piles on the pressure. Kahiu’s decision to deal head-on with Kenyan homophobia and intolerance is understandable, but the result is that the first half loses its aura of intimacy and tenderness. The second half is a little too adamant and on-the-nose. There should have been one or two straight characters who don’t give the couple so much grief.
But I loved the two leads (especially Munyiva); ditto Kena’s mom (Muthoni Gathecha). And I loved getting to know native Nairobi culture to some extent.