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Kenya's Samantha Mugatsia Snags 'Best Actress' Award for Her Lead Role in 'RAFIKI' at FESPACO 2019

The continent's most prestigious pan-African film festival acknowledges a queer character despite 'RAFIKI's' home country maintaining its ban on the film.

FESPACO, Africa's oldest and largest pan-African film and TV festival returned to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in its 50th year—making a statement during it's highly anticipated prize ceremony that closes out the festivities.

The festival presented Kenya's own Samantha Mugatsia the award for 'Best Actress' for her queer character Kena in Wanuri Kahiu's Cannes-favorite RAFIKI, BBC reports.


All eyes were on the film last year, as Kahiu fought tooth and nail for her film to be screened in Kenya, especially for the opportunity to make the film eligible for an Oscar nomination. The Kenya Film Classification Board briefly permitted the film to be screened for a week in September 2018, but has since maintained its ban, claiming the film "seeks to legitimize lesbian romance."

'Rafiki' - Official Trailer (Exclusive) youtu.be

For FESPACO to acknowledge this film and give it its due praise despite its controversy surrounding archaic laws and schools of thought around the need to support queer Africans, is simply huge.

"It's quite overwhelming, but I feel like this such a pivotal time in Kenya and in Africa to create discourse about societal issues," Mugatsia says on Newsday on winning the award. "I'm proud that RAFIKI and the cast and everyone that has been part of this or has been supporting us is able to create...a safe space."

She continues:

"It's a very pivotal time, especially for the Kenyan law system in the sense that the constitution was promulgated in 2010 and we emphasized a lot on the bill of rights and people being able to express themselves. Besides RAFIKI being a queer film, the first fight begins with artists being able to write stories that they can and make films that they want to."

For Kahiu, this award is also a moment to acknowledge the need for freedom of expression on the continent.

"We have the right to tell our stories, because they are precisely that—ours," she says on Twitter. "We have the right to have all voices heard because they are ours. We have the right to create, because that's how we share our humanity with the rest of the world."

RAFIKI is inspired by the 2007 Caine Prize Winning short story "Jambula Tree" by Ugandan writer Monica Arac Nyeko, where it asks whether it's safer being invisible or if it's better to defy conservative rules, while discovering one's identity and destiny through love. In the film we meet Mugatsia's character along with her co-star Sheila Munyiva, who plays Ziki. The two young women fall in love despite the odds stacked against them.

Interview
Photo: Schure Media Group/Roc Nation

Interview: Buju Banton Is a Lyrical Purveyor of African Truth

A candid conversation with the Jamaican icon about his new album, Upside Down 2020, his influence on afrobeats, and the new generation of dancehall.

Devout fans of reggae music have been longing for new musical offerings from Mark Anthony Myrie, widely-known as the iconic reggae superstar Buju Banton. A shining son of Jamaican soil, with humble beginnings as one of 15 siblings in the close-knit community of Salt Lane, Kingston, the 46-year-old musician is now a legend in his own right.

Buju Banton has 12 albums under his belt, one Grammy Award win for Best Reggae Album, numerous classic hits and a 30-year domination of the industry. His larger-than-life persona, however, is more than just the string of accolades that follow in the shadows of his career. It is his dutiful, authentic style of Caribbean storytelling that has captured the minds and hearts of those who have joined him on this long career ride.

The current socio-economic climate of uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrusted onto the world, coupled with the intensified fight against racism throughout the diaspora, have taken centre stage within the last few months. Indubitably, this makes Buju—and by extension, his new album—a timely and familiar voice of reason in a revolution that has called for creative evolution.

With his highly-anticipated album, Upside Down 2020, the stage is set for Gargamel. The title of this latest discography feels nothing short of serendipitous, and with tracks such as "Memories" featuring John Legend and the follow-up dancehall single "Blessed," it's clear that this latest body of work is a rare gem that speaks truth to vision and celebrates our polylithic African heritage in its rich fullness and complexities.

Having had an exclusive listen to some other tracks on the album back in April, our candid one-on-one conversation with Buju Banton journeys through his inspiration, collaboration and direction for Upside Down 2020, African cultural linkages and the next generational wave of dancehall and reggae.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

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