Kenya has banned gay documentary I Am Samuel because the film is an “affront” to the country’s constitution.
The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) announced Thursday (23 September) that it banned a documentary titled I Am Samuel, which depicts a gay Kenyan’s struggle for acceptance and his relationship with another man.
According to the KFCB, the film was “unacceptable as well as demeaning to Christianity”, claiming the film contradicted Kenyan values and the country’s constitution.
Christopher Wambua, the board’s boss, said in a statement that the film is an “affront to article 45” of the constitution, which “recognises the family as the basic unit of society and defines marriage as between two persons of the opposite gender”.
“Moreover, our laws, culture as well as our society’s belief is in the sacrosanct institution of family,” Wambua said.
He added the film board’s analysis found I Am Samuel “propagates values that are in dissonance with our constitution, culture, values and norms”. Wambua claimed the documentary “could easily expose vulnerable groups, including children, to unsuitable content”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the ban, saying the struggle for LGBT+ people’s rights in Kenya will not be silenced.
Neela Ghoshal, associate director of the HRW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights programme, questioned how the film went against Kenya’s values. Ghoshal said that LGBT+ people have “staked out their place” within Kenya’s society, “challenging discrimination and claiming their rights.”
“During my years living in Kenya, the values I saw in action every day included care and kindness, tolerance, and openness to difference,” Ghosal said. “Kenya is diverse in every way: geographically, ethnically, religiously, and, yes, in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Ghosal said the KFCB’s “flimsy” attempts at censoring I Am Samuel will not succeed because “censorship rarely does”.
She added that “Samuel’s story will be seen by Kenyans who will make up their own minds”.
“In trying to force on the blinders to deny LGBT people’s existence and rights, KFCB is on the wrong side of history,” Ghosal wrote.
I Am Samuel filmmaker Pete Murimi said in a statement on Twitter that the film is important because it will allow Kenyans to have a “constructive dialogue about LGBTQ rights in Kenya”.
“The film demonstrates how much we have in common,” Murimi said. “We all fall in love, we all contend with family expectations… the biggest difference is, Samuel, our main character had to also reckon with homophobia and violence.”
PRESS RELEASE: Kenyans will not be allowed to view the critically acclaimed documentary film ‘I Am Samuel’, because it has been restricted by @InfoKfcb #KFCBbansGayFilm #Iamsamuelfilm #loveislove pic.twitter.com/wYgieSyfWk
— I am Samuel Documentary (@IamSamuelFilm) September 23, 2021
He also thanked Samuel for inviting filmmakers into his life and allowing them to “share it with the world”.
The LGBT+ community in Kenya faces persecution and discrimination. Kenyan law criminalised same-sex intimacy under section 162 of the country’s penal code, making it punishable by 14 years of imprisonment.
Article 165 of the same penal code declared that “indecent practices between males” is punishable with the possibility of five years’ imprisonment, according to NPR.
In 2018, the KFCB banned a film titled Rafiki which depicts a lesbian love story and was the first Kenyan movie to premiere at the Cannes film festival, AFP reported. The ban on Rafiki was later overturned by a court, and the film received overwhelming support at the box office.