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Spotlight: ‘Rafiki,’ a Kenyan film about a lesbian love story; Huntington’s North Hall Arts Festival turns 10

Published: 5/16/2019 4:18:01 PM
Modified: 5/16/2019 4:17:51 PM

Banned in Kenya, now screened in Northampton

It’s the first Kenyan film ever to be entered in the Cannes Film Festival (in 2018), and it’s received good reviews from a number of western outlets such as, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

But “Rafiki,” a story of a love affair between two women, was banned in Kenya because of what the country’s film classification board called its “homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law.”

Now “Rafiki” will make its Massachusetts debut on Saturday, May 18 at Northampton’s Academy of Music, thanks to the efforts of Out! For Reel, the Valley LGBTQ cultural events organization led by founder Jaime Michaels, which has put together the 7 p.m. screening. 

Michaels notes that this weekend marks the 15th anniversary of same-sex marriage becoming legal in Massachusetts, making the screening of “Rafiki” (which means “friend” in Swahili) especially timely.

“We invite everyone in the community to join us in watching this moving film in honor of all LGBTQ people in Kenya,” Michaels said in a statement. “Our global fight for LGBTQ equality continues. ‘Rafiki’ is one more powerful step forward.”

The film, directed and co-written by Wanuri Kahiu of Kenya, tells the story of the growing love between two young women, the serious Kena and the more carefree Ziki, and their struggles against the prevailing homophobia of Kenyan society, including one scene of particularly ugly anti-gay violence.

Yet, as The Washington Post writes, “Rafiki” also offers a positive message, with the film set against “a glorious backdrop of Nairobi’s streetscape, club life and domestic interiors ... Although Kahiu is sharply critical of the hypocrisies of Kenyan culture, she is just as attuned to the sweetness of romance at its most instinctive, tender and fragile.”

Michaels says a Kenyan woman and lesbian who is seeking asylum in the U.S. will attend the film and will speak about the discrimination she has faced in her country. Tickets are $12 at the door/$10 in advance and can be purchased at Doors open at 6 p.m. for a social hour before the movie begins.


Ten years of hilltown arts

Northampton, Easthampton and Amherst have the lion’s share of galleries, music venues and other art settings in the area. But it would be hard to find a more charming, cozy and historic setting for seeing a play or listening to music than Huntington’s North Hall, originally built as a schoolhouse in 1795.

And for 10 years now, the historic building, after getting some extensive renovations, has been featuring a summer arts festival from late May through mid September. The new season opens Saturday, May 25, with an opera showcase, and the festival will offer a variety of music, including jazz by La Voz De Tres, above, as well as theater and other events.

Next weekend’s “Open Aria & Song Showcase” (7 p.m. on May 25, 2 p.m. on May 26) will feature the New York ensemble of soprano Amy Orsulak, tenor Antonio Abate, baritone Samuel Bowen and pianist Jerome Tan. On their set list are a number of Italian arias and Schubert art song favorites including “An die Musik,” “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” and “Standchen.” There will also be several Italian opera selections such as the ​“l’altra notte” from Boito’s “Mefistofele.”

And on Sunday, June 23, Louis Armstrong’s music will be celebrated by a sextet of musicians playing trombone, trumpet, tuba, clarinet and banjo, and working from actual transcriptions of Armstrong’s music that was recorded in Chicago from 1927 to 1929.

Most events are $10 at the door (students attend free), and audience members can meet the performers during intermission. For more information on the summer festival, visit

— Steve Pfarrer



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