Activists and film producers criticized the Kenya Film Classification Board’s decision to ban a documentary that tells the story of a Kenyan struggling with his sexuality.
They said banning the 52-minute film, I Am Samuel, amounted to “discrimination and persecution” of LGBTQ + people.
The film – which was shot over five years and took two years to edit – follows the life of a young man tormented by his sexuality as he grows up in the Kenyan countryside, who finds acceptance after moving to the capital, Nairobi.
“The ongoing criminalization of LGBTQ + people in Kenya is a sad trend bordering on discrimination and persecution of individuals perceived to have a minority orientation. This decision is driven by very intolerant and intrusive religious and cultural beliefs, ”said Kamau Ngugi, executive director of Defenders Coalition, a coordinating group of human rights organizations and activists.
The film rating body said last week that the film “flagrantly” violates the country’s laws that criminalize all forms of homosexuality or same-sex marriage, and that the script was a “clear and deliberate attempt to producer to promote same-sex marriage as an acceptable way of life ”.
He said the film sought to trick viewers into believing that “the older generation that was once against LGBTQ + is slowly embracing the practice and accepting same-sex marriage.”
Kenyan law criminalizes anyone who indulges in what it calls “the carnal knowledge of anyone against the order of nature”. If convicted, people face up to 14 years in prison. The Kenyan constitution states that marriage is a union between two people of opposite sexes.
The government also called the film blasphemous to the Christian faith. Two young men are shown leading a church service, which was “an attempt to use religion to defend same-sex marriage,” the government said.
However, Toni Kamau, one of the film’s producers, said the ban is an affront to free speech enshrined in the country’s constitution. She said she was “deeply saddened by the discriminatory language used by the government to describe the experiences of the people who have brought us into their lives.”
“We think this is a bigger conversation about free speech. Everyone has the right to share their lived experience, their truth. We love character-driven documentaries that provide insight into people’s experiences, ”Kamau said.
“What does it mean to be a Kenyan religious man in a country that criminalizes your love? We thought it was important to share this story because it’s a Kenyan story.
The government warned that anyone attempting to “exhibit, distribute, broadcast or possess” the film in Kenya would be punished “with full force of law”.