In the years since, the KFCB went on to ban other LGBT-related films, such as Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki (2018) and Peter Murimi’s I Am Samuel (2020). These bans underscore a troubling trend that isn’t restricted to Kenya: a resistance to acknowledging and understanding diverse narratives, and using bans to sideline the very existence of real people. It's not just about films; it's about silencing voices, curbing creativity, and stifling dialogues that challenge societal norms.
To date, Stories of Our Lives has never screened publicly in Kenya.
Notwithstanding the ban in Kenya, the film has gone on to screen in venues across the world, and won a lovely collection of awards along the way—for which I am super grateful! Creating "Stories of Our Lives" was a transformative experience for me, both as an artist and as a queer person. Engaging with such personal narratives helped widen my understanding of my country, and where our queer bodies sit in society and history. The drama that followed the release of the film, the private and public losses that have come with being ‘out, and the State’s response to unequivocally ban the film and others like it reinforced my interest in and commitment to using the practice of narrative, image and sound making to highlight both the injustices and freedoms that exist in this world.
The broader LGBTQ+ landscape in Kenya and East Africa remains challenging. While there are pockets of resistance, acceptance and support, challenges persist. Anti-LGBTQ attitudes both on the continent and across the globe have hardened in recent years, in part due to campaigning by Western evangelical church groups, right-wing think tanks and private foundations. As well as religious campaigning, Africa's anti-LGBTQ attitudes also have strong roots in the colonial era, including an anti-sodomy section of Britain's penal code.
In 2023, Uganda finally passed an updated version of the anti-LGBT legislation that had spurred us to begin this project back in 2013. The law is dubbed one of the world's toughest anti-LGBTQ laws, including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality", and bringing to 33 the number of African countries that have laws that criminalise same-sex sexual activity such as Nigeria and Ghana. The move has also encouraged lawmakers here in Kenya, neighbouring Tanzania and other countries to seek similar measures.
Societal norms, political interests, and religious beliefs intersect here in difficult ways, creating a dense web of opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. However, it's crucial to note the resilience of the community and its allies. Community movements, awareness campaigns, and brave individuals continue to fight for change. The hope is that time, love and empathy will pave the way for a more inclusive society.
I’m very proud of this film! I remain hopeful that, someday, our Kenyan audience will get to experience the stories we wove together with the team. Until then, I hope it continues to do the rounds elsewhere, to inspire and challenge viewers to think deeper about identity and belonging.
My forever-thanks go to, without whom this film wouldn’t exist:
Olwenya Maina (1988-2022), for the gift of a tender performance in Athman
Steven Markovitz and the Big World Cinema team
Rasha Salti and the TIFF14 team
The Nest Collective, and those beautiful Kenyan souls who shared such personal truths with us for the project, keep your head up.