Kenyan authorities on Thursday 23 September banned the screening and broadcasting of a documentary telling the story of a gay couple, calling the film “Unacceptable and an affront to culture and identity” of this deeply Christian country which criminalizes homosexuality. I am Samuel, by Kenyan director Peter Murimi, tells a love story between two men living in Nairobi.
The film has aroused the ire of the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), which believes it promotes the “Gay marriage as an acceptable way of life”. In a statement announcing the film’s ban, the KFCB believes that the documentary “Propagates values which are in dissonance with our Constitution, our cultural values and our standards”. Worse, says Christopher Wambu, the boss of the KFCB, the film shows this couple faking a religious marriage, an act he describes as “Blasphemous”. The KFCB therefore prohibits “To project, distribute, possess and disseminate” the film on Kenyan territory.
Homosexuality is taboo in most African countries, where homosexuals often face discrimination and even persecution. In Kenya, recent attempts to overturn laws prohibiting homosexuality, inherited from British colonial times, have failed. Homosexual relations remain a crime there which, according to the law, can carry a sentence of up to fourteen years in prison, but trials are rare.
A “discriminatory” ban
I am Samuel is the second Kenyan film to be controversial on this theme in recent years. In 2018, Rafiki (“Friend”, in Swahili), by Wanuri Kahiu, a lesbian love story that was the first Kenyan film screened at the Cannes Film Festival, had also been banned. After a legal battle, Rafiki had finally been screened for a short time in Nairobi, in packed theaters.
Peter Murimi said in an interview with AFP in October 2020 that he expected the documentary not to be well received by Kenyan censors. However, he describes his film as “Very nuanced, very balanced, it is the story of a family which fights against this problem, to have a gay child”. “We’ll just do our best and hopefully the Kenyans will see it”, he declared. The documentary, screened at several festivals and available for rental online, also received support from Wanuri Kahiu. “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of self-confidence”, wrote the director on Twitter after the announcement of the film’s ban.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned this ban “Discriminatory”, which, according to the NGO, violates the rights of Kenyan citizens. “Once again, the Kenyan government has denigrated its LGBT citizens by banning a documentary aimed at humanizing an ordinary Kenyan gay couple”Neela Ghoshal, deputy director of HRW’s LGBT division, told AFP. “The KFCB can continue to violate freedom of expression by silencing gay Kenyan voices, but cannot suppress them”, she added.
To stay up to date with African news, subscribe to the “Monde Afrique” newsletter from this link. Every Saturday at 6 am, find a week of current events and debates treated by the editorial staff of “Monde Afrique”.