A provocative new Kenyan film exploring life in the country's LGBT community earned the ire of the national film board last week, with the regulatory body banning the film from being screened and distributed inside the country.
"Stories of Our Lives," which won plaudits after its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, was barred by the Kenyan Film Classification Board on Oct. 3, in a ruling that criticized the film for "obscenity, explicit scenes of sexual activities and [for promoting] homosexuality, which is contrary to [Kenya's] national norms and values."
The filmmakers have 14 days from the date of the original ruling to appeal the ban.
Director Jim Chuchu, executive producer George Gachara, and screenwriter Njoki Ngumi said in an email that they were "saddened both by the implication of the restriction, and the predictability of the board's decision.
"We hoped that the board would look at the film for what it is and make a decision outside the politics," they said.
Homosexuality in Kenya is illegal, although instances of prosecution are rare. Still, members of the country's LGBT community face frequent persecution because of the stigma attached to homosexuality in mainstream Kenyan society — something the filmmakers hoped to address by bringing that community's "Stories" to light.
The movie, which features five fictional vignettes based on the real-life experiences of gay Kenyans, offers poignant snapshots of the secretive lives most of Kenya's LGBT community are forced to lead. Fearing the potential repercussions of being associated with such a controversial project, the cast and crew chose to remain anonymous throughout the filming, only revealing their identities at the world premiere.
Though the Toronto reception was warm, the filmmakers were aware of the challenges they would face back home. The decision by the Kenyan film board — which claims as part of its mandate a responsibility to "safeguard national values and norms" — underscored the resistance that still exists and highlighted the contradictions of a society in flux.
"Are these norms and values set in stone such that they cannot evolve? Are all Kenyan filmmakers and artists required only to make films and works of art that reinforce mainstream ideas about Kenyan society?" the movie's creators asked, stressing that their country's social norms are actually more dynamic than most realize.
Ironically — and perhaps predictably — the ban has only increased interest in "Stories." According to the filmmakers, they are "drowning in requests from Kenyans who want to see the film."