A brief observation of the analytical frameworks used by a great number of Kenyan social media users around the controversy surrounding the release of the Kenyan film Rafiki may make you more familiar with the rubrics of “artistic freedom” and “freedom of speech” than those of “queerness” and “precariousness” (here “queerness” accounts for those Kenyans who live outside of gender and sexuality norms). These uneven uptakes were on full display on 21 September 2018, the day that High Court Justice Wilfrida Okwany ruled that the film previously banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board for “promoting lesbianism” could now be viewed by Kenyans in public spaces for the duration of a week. Justice Okwany stated, “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society that its moral foundation will be shaken by seeing such a film.”
In celebration of the ruling, the film’s director Wanuri Kahiu (@wanuri) tweeted, “(The Kenyan) constitution is STRONG! Give thanks to freedom of expression,” even as the legality of same-sex sex remained in flux and the lives of many queer Kenyans continued to remain at the unsaid mercy of their anti-queer neighbours, families, friends, and government under the same legal regime. Yet Kahiu was not alone in making this analysis, as multiple Kenyan social media users made similar analyses. In the wake of a controversy fuelled by institutional anti-queerness, queer vulnerability was folded into a disremembered, uncited asterisk, while privacy and speech rights were expanded to the level of the thematic, occupying a kind of resonant spectacularity in Kenyan Twitter discourse.
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