Kenya has banned its first feature film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, accusing it of having “clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law”.

Director Wanuri Kahiu said she is “incredibly sorry” to confirm the ban of Rafiki or Friend in Swahili, by the Kenya Film Classification Board. Her film depicts a love story between two women.

In Kenya, people who have gay sex can face up to 14 years in prison. Many countries across Africa have laws against homosexuality, with people facing severe harassment and physical threats.

“I think that there are discerning audiences not only in Kenya, but the entire world that are able to judge what’s good and bad and it’s not what’s defined by the Kenya Film Classification board,” Ms Kahiu told The Associated Press.

She said she has tried to have the film classified for viewers 18 and above.

“It’s limiting freedom expression of artists in the country and hence the growth of the industry,” she added.

The director has said in interviews she had been nervous about the film’s reception in Kenya, but found support from government authorities and the local film industry.

But the film board accused producers of changing the original script that was licenced for production and said it “shall pursue the legal means to hold them accountable”. The original script didn’t have romantic scenes between the female actors, the board said.

“It is our considered view that the moral of the story in this film is to legitimise lesbianism in Kenya,” the board’s statement said. “Any attempt to introduce and normalise homosexuality in Kenya flies in the face of the law and the constitution and must be resisted.”

The board said it met with the director earlier this month and asked her to edit out the film’s “offensive” parts. On Wednesday, the director instead told the board to go ahead and make a ruling, it said.

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