Rafiki

Or: Fuck Your Unhappy Ending

Film: Rafiki (2018)
Director: Wanuri Kahiu
Cast: Samantha Mugatsia, Sheila Munyiva

*Spoilers*

TW: Violence against women

“Good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives,” but Kena and Ziki long for something more. When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety.

Kena works with her dad John in his convenience store while he also runs for local government. Meanwhile, she lives with her ma who barely speaks to her ex now he has a new wife and a baby son on the way – something they both learn second-hand via the town gossip. Kena hangs with a small crew including her friend Blacksta who seems to have romantic designs on her, though she doesn’t reciprocate.

One day, outside the store, Kena spots free spirited Ziki and the attraction is instant. Z for context is the daughter of John’s political rival, Peter. The women start hanging out romantically and things are going pretty swell. For a time.

As the girls grow closer, the cracks begins to show, especially when Z thinks nothing of trying to hold Kena’s hand in church, in front of their families. While Z doesn’t see the big deal, Kena is petrified of being found out. Homosexuality here is illegal and the locals have very strong views against it. Out gay people, as witnessed in one scene with K and her friends, are ridiculed and ostracized – or worse.

The pair argue but it doesn’t keep them apart. Later, Kena gets her exam results, encouraged by Z and realises the future she thought she might have could be brighter than expected.

When one of Z’s friends jealously attacks Kena, it causes quite the stir, not least with the town gossip and her bitchy daughter, who – like me at the work Christmas do – are always in the wings, just waiting for something juicy to happen. Secrets have a habit of being uncovered so you just know something’s got to give. After the kerfuffle, Ziki’s mum catches the girls kissing and there’s yet more drama. The lovers run away and plan a new life together in the city but when Madame Gossipy Pants spies them, she rounds up an angry mob who attack the girls violently.

Side note: Oh to have the power to incite an angry mob. Except make it cute and a bit more positive? 

The girls are battered and shaken but not too badly damaged physically – but the incident shifts everything when they’re arrested. THEY ARE ARRESTED following THEIR ATTACK and have to be picked up by their respective fathers. Z’s dad slaps her in the station and demands that Kena stay away from his family, while K’s father is a little gentler. Unfortunately, Kena’s mother lays most of the blame over her ‘demon’ daughter at the feet of her ex-husband.

There’s a blessing/exorcism of sorts organised by Kena’s mother for her daughter’s soul and Z is sent to London by her parents. Which seems like a brilliant idea since London doesn’t have lesbians or fun. And that’s the end of that, right? Well, some bonds just can’t be broken, despite the worst intentions of others.

This is a pretty simple love story but it’s an important one that illustrates the injustices still rife in some parts of the world. The film itself was banned by the KFCB for its themes and promotion of lesbianism. Which is just fantastic, more films should promote LGBTQ+ sensibilities if you ask me.

I find I don’t have much to say about it really, beyond the fact that I bought into the central relationship, loved to hate the gossip and was touched by Kena’s father, who refuses to demonise his daughter and sacrifices his political quest to support her. Oh, and there’s a wordless scene in which the out gay man from earlier sits beside Kena in solidarity – that got me square in the heart.

It looks great, performances are lovely and the sentiment is gorgeous. Director Wanuri Kahiu refused to change the ending of the film, which the KFCB deemed too ‘hopeful and positive’ and I love her for it.

The ending feels like a beginning and I think that’s what love should make you believe – that anything and everything is possible, and it’s all yours for the taking.

Rating: 3.5 secret kisses in a van out of 5


What are my wife’s views on Rafiki? Would she take it into the dust and beat it down – or let it live in the peace and harmony it deserves? Find out here.

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