The 10 best Kenyan TV shows and films of the decade
From Nairobi Half Life to Supa Modo, from Selina to The Real Househelps of Kawangware, these are the productions that put Kenya on the map.
This is the decade that ushered in Kenya’s first entry to the Oscars (and the others that followed), gave rise to bold filmmakers who ruffled feathers, and ambitious storytellers who made award-winning TV shows and movies that captured the hearts of audiences and critics. And as we come to the end of this decade, we’ve compiled some great Kenyan titles that have shaped the industry in the last 10 years, all available to stream on Showmax.
Director: Tosh Gitonga
Cast: Joseph Wairimu, Olwenya Maina, Shix Kapienga
Nairobi Half Life, Tosh Gitonga’s directorial debut and a collaborative project with Tom Tykwer’s One Fine Day Films took Kenya to places it never thought it could go. The film, which follows an aspiring young actor and his disillusioned dream to make it big in the city, won awards, turned heads at international film festivals, and was widely praised by critics. The Hollywood Reporter described it as “fundamentally honest and vividly realistic” while Variety wrote that it was “gritty without being too downbeat”. It’s no wonder it became Kenya’s first-ever entry to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language category and made Gitonga one of the most sought-after filmmakers in Kenya. Watch it on Showmax.
- 33rd Durban International Film Festival – Best Actor (Joseph Wairimu)
- Africa Movie Academy Awards 2013 – Most Promising Actor (Joseph Wairimu)
- Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards 2014 – Best Cinematographer, Best Lighting Designer, Best Make-Up Artist and Best Art Director
- Kalasha Awards 2012 – Best Cinematographer
Director: Nick Reding
Cast: Peter King, Ednah Daisy, Peter Paul Kades
In the wake of post-election violence, Ni Sisi tells the story of a multi-tribal Kenyan village whose harmonious existence is threatened when the past comes back to haunt them and must work together to resolve their issues to prevent further violence. Watch now.
- Granada Film Festival 2014 – Audience Award, Special Jury Mention
- Rotterdam International Film Festival 2014 Big Screen Award Nominee
- Zanzibar International Film Festival 2013 – Silver Dhow Award
Director: Judy Kibinge
Cast: Sue Wanjiru, Kipng’eno Kirui Duncan, Hilda Jepkoech
Something Necessary tells the story of a woman struggling to rebuild her life after the 2007 post-election violence that took everything from her as she also confronts one of the people responsible for her pain. Watch it on Showmax.
- Chicago International Film Festival 2013 – Audience Choice Award Nominee
Director: Mbithi Masya
Cast: Nyokabi Gethaiga, Elsaphan Njora, Mumbi Maina, Peter King, Brian Ogola
Like Gitonga, Mbithi Masya made his directorial debut with Kati Kati, the story of Kaleche (Nyokabi Gethaiga), a young woman who wakes up in a mysterious resort not knowing who she is or how she got there, only to find out that she’s stuck in the afterlife with other “wandering” souls.
Kati Kati was Kenya’s entry to the Oscars in 2017, and received positive reviews from critics with The Playlist describing it as a “condensed version of Lost” while The Film Stage wrote: “…Kati Kati is a perfect example of what can be made when the right resources are supplied to the right people.” Watch it on Showmax.
- Toronto International Film Festival 2016 – International Critics’ Award (FIPRESCI)
- Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award (AMVCA) 2017 – Best Movie: East Africa
- AFI Fest 2016 Audience Award Nominee
Director: Likarion Wainaina
Cast: Stycie Wairimu, Maryanne Nungo, Nyawara Ndabia
Likarion Wainaina dared to dream with Supa Modo and delivered Kenya’s first-ever superhero film. Supa Modo, another collaborative project with One Fine Day films, tells the story of a terminally ill nine-year-old girl whose dream of becoming a superhero who can fly comes true when her rebellious sister rallies the whole village behind her.
Certified 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Supa Modo has been described as a “super sweet tale of the power of cinema” by Awards Circuit. And with over 50 international awards under its belt, Supa Modo made history by becoming Kenya’s most awarded film yet. Watch it now.
• Cape Town Film Festival – Best New Director
• Durban International Film Festival 2018 – Artistic Bravery Prize
• Carthage Film Festival – Best Screenplay
• Children’s Film Festival Seattle 2019 – Audience Award
Garnering a following never seen before for a local show, Selina became the must-watch show for every Kenyan when it premiered in 2018.
Selina, which was adapted from the original story written by Bollywood’s Vivek Bahl, follows the tortuous love story between Selina (Celestine Gachuhi), a once-naïve-girl from the village now turned remarkable fashion designer, and the rich Nelson (Pascal) and the challenges they have to go through – including a possessive, manipulative cousin and an obsessive, deranged love interest – to fight for their love. Binge-watch Selina on Showmax.
- Kalasha Awards 2018 – Best TV Drama
- Kalasha Awards 2019 – Best TV Drama, Best Lead Actor in a TV Drama
If 2019 was Selina’s year, then 2017 belonged to Sue na Jonnie, the comedy-drama series that starred Catherine Kamau and Martin Githinji in the titular roles of Sue and Jonnie respectively, a fake couple who take up new identities when an opportunity to make money opens up.
A show that captured Kenya’s street humour at its finest, Sue na Jonnie was an instant hit with fans and later dominated the Kalasha Awards in 2017 by scooping all the silver it had been nominated for, coming only second to Mbithi Masya’s Kati Kati. Start binge-watching.
- Kalasha Awards 2017 – Best TV Drama, Best Lead Actor in a Drama (Martin Githinji) and Best Lead Actress in a Drama (Catherine Kamau)
Tapping into the popularity of The Real Housewives franchise, The Real Househelps of Kawangware, which was released in 2014, is a mockumentary comedy that follows the lives of domestic workers in a low-income urban neighbourhood as they navigate their everyday dramatic lives that are never short of a scandal, gossip and humour. Watch it here.
- Kalasha Awards 2018 – Best TV Comedy
- Lupita Nyong’o’s guilty pleasure (a big win, of course)
A drama series with a psychological thriller twist, Philippe Bresson’s New Beginnings was way ahead of its time when it premiered in 2015. In the series, Neville Misati (S1) and Kone Nouhoum (S2 and 3) play Sean, a coma patient who wakes up after five years to find that his wife (played by BBC’s Maya Hayakawa) is now married to his best friend Derek (Joed Kariuki), who is also caught in a dangerous clandestine affair with another woman. Watch it now.
- Kalasha 2017 Best TV Drama Nominee
- Riverwood Academy Awards 2016 Best TV Series Nominee
An M-Net original telenovela helmed by Appie Matere (Jela 5-Star) and her Zamaradi Productions, Kona was the show to watch back in 2013. Kona follows the Oyange family and the everyday struggles and challenges they face as they try to keep afloat after the death of the family patriarch whose legacy (a boxing gym) they must preserve and protect even from the greed that threatens it. Kona features the indomitable Nini Wacera, Fareed Khimani and Brenda Wairimu (Monica). Start watching.