July 11, 2020

Forbidden love at the Joburg Film Festival in South Africa | Culture

Naked from the long colored braids that characterize her character, Ziki, Kenyan actress Sheila Munyiva stood before the South African public to open the Joburg Film Festival (which ended on Saturday, 17), with the controversial film that she stars, Rafiki (from the director Wanuri Kahiu). "When the proposal to embody Ziki came to me, I hesitated a lot to accept the role, because it could ruin my career and compromise my security in my own country," says Munyiva. The script that came to her hands was a love story, but the lovers were two Kenyan teenage girls. In Kenya, sexual relations between gays and lesbians are prohibited and can cost up to 14 years in prison.

However, now she shares with enthusiasm the pride of having been part of this production – which became the first Kenyan film to be selected at the Cannes Film Festival – for being part of a transgression that has led the public to a taboo and "an intense trip with a team where women have been the majority, from the director, the cast, the production team and with a soundtrack made by women".

Trailer of 'Rafiki'.

Rafiki is inspired by the story Jambula Tree, by the Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko. The film is a rarity in the film industry and addresses an inequality that has yet to be resolved, which the South African festival has put in the spotlight in this edition. However, Munyiva's fears of being a lesbian on the big screen "in a country as conservative" as his, proved well-founded. Rafiki, That means "friend" in Swahili, was banned in Kenya "to promote and legitimize lesbian relationships" and warned that "whoever owns a copy" of the film "would be breaking the law."

"When we came back from Cannes," Munyiva explains, "we had to travel in different planes because we were afraid of being arrested." The South African public welcomed their bravery with applause, an unwarranted reaction in a country that, despite having laws that do accept homosexuality, is often condemned and punished harshly in its streets, flowered with the purple of the jacarandas in these austral summer days.

Only a couple of cries of muted scandal sounded from the seats in the first caress that Ziki and Kena dare to share in their romance in the movie. In Johannesburg, as in Nairobi during the seven days that the Kenya Film Classification Board lifted the ban, a packed room and applause challenged discrimination.

Trailer of Five Fingers For Marseilles.

With more than 40 feature films, the combative and thoughtful Joburg Film Festival also opted in this edition to investigate the depths of South Africa, from all angles and genres. Like the spectacular wéstern shot entirely in the Sesotho language, Five Fingers For Marseilles (by Michael Matthews, 2017), to the documentary Everything must fall (Everything must fall, of Rehad Desai), which dissects the largest student protests in democratic South Africa, the that two years ago shook universities under the slogan #Fees Must Fall. Also, a miscegenation of documentary and fiction in which great leaders are remembered and "freedom figthers " of recent history as Walter and Albertina Sisulu, to South African love affair, and, inevitably, without forgetting Nelson Mandela (The State Against Mandela and the Others); or inspecting the origins of Johannesburg and the country's mining industry (Dying for Gold).

Far from the halls, under the bright mid-afternoon sun, in an open courtyard protected by a tent, more than a hundred women gathered in a special session. Comfortably installed in red and green poufs, in a relaxed atmosphere: actresses, producers, activists and the public gathered to debate and denounce sexual discrimination in the film industry. For Angie Mills, director of the festival, this biannual event should also be "a call to action".


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