popular
Video still via Youtube.

Wanuri Kahiu Speaks on the Overwhelming Response to 'RAFIKI' at Cannes

"It doesn't matter where in the world you are, we all kind of fall in love in the same way."

When the credits rolled and the lights came up at the end of her film's premiere in the Palais des Festival, director Wanuri Kahiu stood next to her lead actresses Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva, all dressed in off-white outfits, taking in the acclaim of a standing ovation. Someone in the audience shouted, 'Thank you!' and Kahiu put her hand over her heart. Festival director Thierry Fremaux motioned for them to look up and see just how many people were clapping in the theatre's balcony seats too, lauding the first Kenyan film to ever debut at the Cannes Film Festival.

"What's incredible about the response is that people are so excited about watching 'happy Africa,' Kahiu tells me the next day, with the Cote d'Azur shimmering in the sun behind her. "That's been the most curious thing. I haven't been reading reviews because I tend not to, good or bad, but somebody said there is a French journalist who wrote an article which said, 'How do Kenyans fall in love? The exact same way we do.' And that was exactly what I was trying to communicate with this film. It doesn't matter where in the world you are, we all kind of fall in love in the same way. We all kind of have joy in the same way."


Reaction to Rafiki at the various screenings it's had here at Cannes have been centered on the idea of how important it is—and how refreshing—to see the kinds of stories like the one the film portrays, up on a big screen. Rafiki is the coming of age tale of two young women in Nairobi who fall in love, much to the chagrin of those around them, who live in a country with a homophobic government.

The film's banning too, by the Kenyan Film Commission, has been well-publicized, making the response it has been receiving at the festival even more poignant. Kahiu believes the film is connecting with people because it shows Africans in a different way to the poverty and political conflict so often shown on cinema. "People are so anxious to watch a joyful African film—and a modern African film at that," she says. "Because that was the other thing; there were many people who told us they love the idea of seeing urban Africa on the screen. 'We love that it was shot in a city, that it's playful and fun.' And that's been the biggest, most extraordinary reaction," she continues.

Video still via Youtube.

That Rafiki made it to the grande dame of film festivals at all is a testimony to the tenacity Kahiu and her co-producers had in seeing the film get made. She and South African producer Steven Markowitz initially began working on it seven years ago, after meeting at the Sundance Film Festival, where Kahiu had shown her short film, Pumzi. Overcoming the obstacles it took to get the movie made—not least of which, the banning by the Kenyan Film Commission, for 'seeking to normalize homosexuality'—marks the moment with greater significance too. The filmmakers didn't receive any funding from either South Africa or Kenya and had to go to four co-production markets and send in over 50 funding applications to find the 30 financiers that would support the film to being made.

During that time, 36-year-old Kahiu gave birth to two children, all the while hanging onto the dream of seeing her movie become a reality. "I remember coming to pitch at LaFabrique (Cannes' program to help develop talented young filmmakers) the first time, with my 5-month-old, who was throwing up at producer's tables. It was fantastic!" she laughs.

Video still via Youtube.

Returning to Cannes five years later, with her movie in the Un Certain Regard portion of the festival has been a welcome outcome after the years of uncertainty. She says she relied on her relationships with Markowitz and fellow co-producer Tamsin Ranger to get her through the tough times. "We would have many many Skype calls," says Kahiu. "Talking and transparency helped a lot: 'Okay, we got rejected again!' and then moving on," she says.

This trip to Cannes has just further stoked her flame – for the love she's received, and the knowledge gained. "I want to come back with more films. And I want to be in the main competition," she says. "And I definitely want to perfect my craft. There's beem lots of good feedback for me on how to improve my craft." She also says she'd like to see more African countries coming together to produce films – the way that Kenya, South Africa and Uganda, where the story Rafiki is based on comes from, did.

As for the ban on her movie in Kenya, Kahiu lives in optimism. "We really hope that the ban will reverse," she says. "At some point it will play in Kenya. We just don't know when."

Interview
Stella Mwangi. Image courtesy of the artist.

Stella Mwangi: Hip-Hop Saved My Life as an African Growing Up in Norway

The Kenyan-Norwegian rapper speaks about the Hollywood hustle, the potential of East African music and what she's dropping next.

If it seems like Stella Mwangi is everywhere these days, that's understandable. It's nearly impossible to see all the rings she's throwing her hat into: her songs are getting featured in Hollywood and across commercials, films and movie trailers.

There's a reason why it's possible to stay on such a grind, to make it work after more than a decade in the rap game, and that's an underlying theme with much of what the Kenyan-Norwegian artist, who also goes by STL, does. She's charged with an incomprehensible current that would have burned out other artists. Even as I caught up with her, she was hours away from taking a flight to the filming of a reality cooking competitions in Norway.

So what is on deck for Stella Mwangi? As it turns out, seemingly everything.

Keep reading... Show less
News

This South African DJ Is Creating a List of Toxic Men in the Industry She Won't Work With

DJ ANG is taking a stand against sexual harassment in the music industry by calling out toxic artists.

August is Women's Month in South Africa, and women around the country are using the opportunity to stand up against femicide, gender violence and sexual harassment on a national level.

There are many ways to protest, and South African DJ and head of SheSaidSo South Africa, Angela Weickl, also known as ANG is carrying out her own demonstration against sexual harassment in the music industry by calling toxic artists out by name and refusing to work alongside them.

"I will be including a list in every booking agreement from now onwards," the artist wrote on Facebook. "This list will be of artists who I refuse to be on a line up with due to their toxic and harmful behaviour. I will not share the spaces where we work to promote diversity, inclusion and safety, with people who harm and disrespect us. If a venue or promoter cannot understand my choice, then I choose not to associate with them."

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Watch the Trailer for 'La Negrada'—Mexico's First Feature Film with an All-Black Cast

The beautifully-shot film snagged the cinematography award at the 2018 Guadalajara International Film Festival.

This August, OkayAfrica shines a light on the connections between Africa and the Latin-American world. Whether it's the music, politics or intellectual traditions, Africans have long been at the forefront of Latino culture, but they haven't always gotten the recognition. We explore the history of Afro-Latino identity and its connection to the motherland.

This new film that recently premiered in Mexico City has made history in the Latin American film world.

La Negrada, directed by Jorge Pérez Solano, is Mexico's first fiction film portraying the Afro-Mexican population, REMEZCLA reports.

Contributing to the slow, but long overdue recognition of Afro-Latino communities on the big screen, La Negrada tells the story of two women, Juana and Magdalena, who are both romantically involved with the same man, Neri. The film was shot throughout Costa Chica—a region that spans along the coast of Guerrero and Oaxaca that's home to the highest concentration of Afro-descendants in Mexico—as Solano enlisted locals and non-professional actors to star in the film.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.