Firstly, I LOVED Rafiki. It is a beautiful narrative where every character is someone we all know, or have been at a time in our lives—maybe still are at present. Gossips, self-appointed moral justices, heterosexual perverts, desperados, hypocrites, adulterers, fornicators, individuals. We’re all in there really. It follows the tragic love story of Kena and Ziki, two Kenyan girls whose fathers are competing candidates for political office. During the opening credits, members of the audience hollered and cheered at the screen at what I assumed were recognizable faces, possibly friends. I didn’t mind it. I thought it remarkable that for once I found myself in a theatre where it was plausible that the actresses/actors on screen could have been sisters, husbands or neighbours to any one person in the room. But I do feel it should have stopped there.
Though the love story contained many components of most love stories, it was obvious we were watching something different. Not because Kena and Ziki were particularly extraordinary in any way, but more so because members of the crowd made it a point to vocalise the two women’s attraction. I was silently disheartened by the eruption of murmurs occasioned by Kena and Ziki’s intimate moments; an intense study of each other’s faces or the intoxication of their physical endearment. What should have been a privilege to witness was so easily interrupted by what I assumed was discomfort, or perhaps an audible study of the unusual. In truth, I found the clapping that met the end of the movie perplexing. I could not understand how so many members of the audience who had made such an effort to remind us of their presence, responded with an act of praise. Where had the respect been—the appreciation for moments that belonged to Ziki’s quiet stare or Kena’s conflicted desire? I feel strongly that we owed them our silence and attention, not our commentary. Given the delicate nature of what is many peoples reality in countries where being homosexual can get you killed, for an hour and 23 minutes we owed them the floor.
There is this horrible scene in the movie where the two women are mercilessly beaten by a mob of bigots upon being discovered kissing in their safe-place, having been followed by the nosy gossip and her daughter who instigate the attack. The next scene has them sitting on separate ends of a bench in a police station, visibly bruised and bleeding. Two police officers watching them jokingly ask which one of the two women plays the role of the man in their relationship. When their parents arrive to pick them up, Ziki’s father slaps her across the face and scolds Kena, before ordering his daughter to get into the car. I cried. I don’t think I’ve cried in a movie house since I watched The Lion King back when I was still in single digits. I found myself wiping runaway tears from my cheeks, though I managed to hold back most of them.
It was the rejection these young women faced that resonated with me most. They no longer qualified for the comforts of human decency, all because of a personal choice. Attitudes in this country have a way of making you feel like you have to live on the brink of apology. I’m not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community but I no greater reflect what prescribed human symptoms are championed in this land, and I certainly could not rely on a vocal majority to countenance my personal Unkenyan declarations and preferences. Kenya’s patriarchal standard has written implied laws for love and care, the same way it writes scripts for women to read from. It’s no wonder why our order of the day is not building a country we can all be proud of—it’s condemning a different flavour of love and humiliating human beings for being human beings. Is love not as per the one who does the loving, and made beautiful by the one who is looking to be loved in that exact way? Why can’t it be the choice we are all at liberty to make without fear of condemnation or prosecution?
I don’t know why there was so much talking during that movie but it reminded me of a quote from Ernest Hemingway:
“The beast at the bullfight is the crowd.”