From A Whisper to a roar: Wanuri Kahiu’s first feature film is now streaming
She’s the creator of the sci-fi Afrofuturism short Pumzi and 2018’s award-winning Rafiki, which has been screened around the world and won international acclaim.
On 7 August 1998, two bombings occurred almost simultaneously at the US embassies in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. These tragic events form the premise for Wanuri Kahiu’s first feature film From a Whisper, which follows an intelligence officer and a young rebellious artist in their quest to heal after both losing someone in the attack.
An instant hit when it was released in 2008, From a Whisper bagged five awards (including Best Picture) out of 12 nominations at the African Movie Academy Awards 2009, and set the stage for the disruptor that Wanuri has become – whether she’s taking a stand to lift a ban on her latest critically acclaimed movie Rafiki, or venturing into new territories like Afrofuturism with her 2009 sci-fi short Pumzi.
Now let’s just cross our fingers and pray for a Lupita-Wanuri collab because once upon a time in Hollywood, a certain young Kenyan actress in a powder-blue Prada dress gave us all something to believe in: “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”
A taste of Afrobubblegum
A strong believer in telling the African story in a “fun, fierce and fantastical way”, Wanuri coined the concept Afrobubblegum to change Africa’s common depressed narrative, and, instead, to represent Africa in a positive light by finding more joy in the continent’s diverse creativity.
She says of Afrobubblegum, “Most people like to think of Africa only as a sum of its problems…this has created a single story with only one perspective of Africa. If the only stories about us are desperate, hopeless and lost, then how can we imagine anything better than that? As a result, we created Afrobubblegum… If we can see ourselves as heroes, then maybe we can imagine radical hope for a better future.”
It’s this kind of non-conformist, ambitious and experimental mindset that has drove Wanuri’s career as a filmmaker in Kenya and beyond. In the process, she’s created films that challenge the status quo and ruffle a few feathers – such as last year’s Rafiki.
Released in 2018, Rafiki follows two young women who fall in love despite the societal pressures and homophobia around them. The first of its kind in Kenya, Rafiki was banned in Kenya, but like the daring filmmaker behind it, Rafiki refused to be restrained – instead becoming the first Kenyan feature to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival and garnering a string of accolades including a Silver Q-Hugo award for Wanuri at the Chicago International Film Festival and a Best Actress award for lead Samantha Mugatsia at the 2019 FESPACO film festival 2019. Rafiki’s most recent achievement is winning the #FreeToBeMe award at the Amsterdam LGBTQ Film Festival on 22 March 2019.
Taking Hollywood by storm
In May 2018, and in the height of Rafiki’s success and controversy back home, Wanuri signed with The Gotham Group, a management and production company behind The Maze Runner franchise, and has since landed her first Hollywood gig to direct Covers, a romance title for Universal and Working Title.
And since Wanuri is a force of nature, it was announced recently that she is also set to direct Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown in a film adaptation of the Young Adult novel The Thing About Jellyfish at Universal. Now let’s just cross our fingers and pray for a Lupita-Wanuri collab because once upon a time in Hollywood, a certain young Kenyan actress in a powder-blue Prada dress gave us all something to believe in: “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”