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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.

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Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Image

#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.



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