Blerd Film Club: Rafiki

It doesn't really matter what country you got to in the world, three things will be present, but may take different forms in each. Those three are racism, sexism, and homophobia. In America there are people who say that LGBTQ couples shouldn't be allowed to get married or share the same rights as married straight couples. People still get murdered for being part of the LGBTQ all over this country, not just the backwoods of nowhere. But, it isn't illegal anymore. In many countries around the world, being gay can get you sent to prison. One such country is Kenya. The film Rafiki tells the story two young lesbians in a small town outside of Nairobi, Kenya.

We're introduced to Kena and her friends. There's Blacksta, a womanizer that has eyes for Kena but is currently dating the daughter of town gossip Mama Atim who runs the restaurant they hang out with. Their friend Waireri taunts a local gay man. Meanwhile Kena becomes infatuated with Ziki, another girl. Ziki notics Kena as well forcing Kena to look away.

Ziki and her friends make trouble outside of Kena's father's shop. Kena chases them off believing they're trying to sabotage her father's campaign for local office. Kena catches and corners Ziki who invites her to hang out some time. The two girls get close and Mama Atim starts to gossip about how the rival politicians have daughters that hang out. In reality, the two are dating, but they're forced to hide it because Kenyan law states that homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in jail. 

Things start to go bad when Ziki wants to hold hands during a church sermon about the evils of homosexuality. A few people hear them arguing and get ideas. Things don't go much better when Kena is jumped by some of Ziki's jealous friends. However, as the secret gets out, things go from bad to worse.

I think there's some beautiful shots in this film, that wouldn't necessarily be called beautiful. I watch a lot of foreign films, or at leas try to. Even when they're filmed in the country that they take place, they try to make these places seem like they're still stuck in the 1800s. I have the internet, it's easy to see the average city in Africa doesn't have more dirt roads than Indianapolis. There's a random shot in their town of a parking lot and cars driving past, which is great because I recently watched a film from South Africa that really wants me to believe there are only dirt roads, motorcycles and cars from the 80s but modern steel factories. It's small, but I loved the fact that they showed Nairobi is right in the distance. It's no different than a small town on the outskirts of a major city anywhere else. As much as Rafiki painted a love story, it also painted a picture of modern Africa. At least to people who only know from television and films that continue to push the same narratives. 

There's a lot said about men in society being homophobic, which is fair. But for some reason, it seems women's role in promoting homophobia is often overlooked. In Greek mythology Helen is known as "the face that launched 1000 ships." The men went to war, and they were violent, but they did it for her. Rafiki has a similar moment. The men form a mob, attacking  Kena and Ziki, but they didn't form the mom. It was Mama Atim, her daughter and Ziki's jealous friends summoning the mob. While many cheered on, we only see four attacking. When the dust settles, only then does Wairei realize he was cheering on the beating of his friend. I make the distinction, not to say that only the people doing the beating were homophobic. Instead I want to point out all homophobia is violent, even if it isn't physical violence. 

Mama Atim rallying the troupes, was incredibly violent. She had nothing to gain from it, but she whipped the people into a frenzy. The four men who beat the girls, incredibly violent, no explanation needed. The men who cheer on the attack are violent. Even if they don't physically attack, they are celebrating it. There are roles in homophobia. The women who get on social media every day and say things like "if a man has his own skincare routine he's gay," or "my grandmother taught me how to spot a gay man," are choosing violence and promoting homophobia. The thing about women is there will always be men willing to follow. Suddenly there's 4000 responses of men explaining how they aren't "with that gay shit," even if nobody asked them. That's the mob right there, cheering it on, choosing violence. Then, you have the men and women who come in telling the world how they would physically handle a gay person. There are roles, in homophobia.

Even roles, where a person thinks they are helpful. The church doesn't try to beat the "demons," out of Kena, instead they pray. They pray for her salvation, they pray because they want God to accept her into heaven. They think they're helping but they aren't. Ziki's parents sending her to London so she could be away from temptation wasn't helping. Blacksta offering Kena a place to stay just so he could offer for her to be his wife, is not helping. There are roles in homophobia, even if your role isn't violent, that doesn't mean you aren't hurting someone. 

The one person in this film who is somewhat helpful through it all, Kena's father John. When he arrives at the police station, he doesn't smack his daughter. He rushes to the chief and begs for the charges to be dropped. He goes with Kena to meet her mother, because he can tell Kena is afraid. When she attempts to criticize and shame Kena, he doesn't allow it. He cared dearly about his campaign, but he wasn't willing to throw his daughter away to win. He lost, even if we aren't told. They spray painted his posters and his store because he still had love for his daughter. In once scene she came to the shop to apologize. He told her there was nothing to apologize for, despite a group of men looking on he embraced her again and closed the store for the day.

Despite the physical and emotional abuse these two women go through, the film was deemed too positive by Kenya's Film Classification Board. What was the ending? Kena gets cussed out by Mama Atim while trying to help her in a hospital. She travels from Nairobi back to her home town where she runs into Ziki. That was it, that's too positive. There's not supposed to be a happy ending for LGBTQ people there. Government corruption, unemployment and crime are spiraling out of control in Kenya at the moment and they're worried about making sure LGBTQ don't get too hopeful about the future. 

In fact, this film was banned for promoting lesbianism. The director Wanuri Kahiu had to sue the Kenyan government to secure a public release for the film. I don't believe this film promotes lesbianism, the homosexuals agenda or anything like that. I think it promotes what we all want, to be accepted for who we are. No matter our race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else, we just want a "a place where we can be real."

You can check out some of my short stories at 12 AM Fiction or if you like vampires follow my web serial Exsanguinate and of course hear me on the Powerbomb Jutsu podcast if you enjoy pro wrestling.

Blerd Film Club: Rafiki Blerd Film Club: Rafiki Reviewed by Darrell S. on Friday, February 12, 2021 Rating: 5

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