Jasmim Bettencourt’s review published on Letterboxd:
Kena, the daughter of a local politician, isn't the usual girl. She likes playing football with the boys and doesn't wear dresses. Boys like her, for she isn't the usual girl. She likes the same things as them and they like hanging out with her. "You'll make a good wife", one of her friends tells her. But she isn't interested in either the boys or being a "good wife". After all, is being a "good wife" the only thing a Kenyan woman can aspire to be? Isn't there something else? Something more real? One day she meets Ziki, the daughter of Jena's father's political opponent. With her, she finds love and that she can achieve much more with life than just being a "good wife". The saying goes: "Good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives". But, through love, Kena is able to grow and defy society's expectations in this beautiful film. Wanuri Kahiu invites us to discover a side of Africa that we didn't know about. We are used to seeing modern uncolonized Africa portrayed in cinema as a yellowish bleak third-world continent, but that is not what we see in this film. In this film we see an Africa dominated by hues of pink and purple in a story that is as unapologetically queer as it is unapologetically feminine. Kahiu crafts a tender and beautiful image of her home city, Nairobi, that reveals a female point-of-view on Kenyan society. There is always an underlying patriarchal and homophobic oppression throughout the film, with Kena always being surrounded by pressures and tensions in a society that is rampantly sexist, with it only getting worse as she falls for Ziki. However, there is always that pink hue in the image, which is what makes us enter the world of Kena. Her world is dominated by an overwhelming desire for something more than what is offered to her, and that is what this pink represents - ambition, love and desire. It is breathtaking when Kena and Ziki are together, as this lilac light ever present in the screen gets more and more intense, and we are overwhelmed by the warmth of the love felt by these two women. The screen vibrates with gorgeous intense colors that hypnotize us and we feel both their desire and desperation. A desire to live life, and a desperation for not being able to do that. Through beautiful camera movements, Kahiu conveys us their passion and we witness truly beautiful moments of intimacy that feel so real and poignant. Of course, this is heightened by the nuanced performances by both Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva, who both dominate the screen with a powerfully radiant presence that makes us fall in love with them, and we truly feel the love that blossoms between the two. And we are not only intoxicated by their love, but we also witness a woman's point of view of Kenyan society, making this film a powerful feminism statement. Kahiu takes every opportunity to take jabs into the Kenyan patriarchal system, and we come face to face with this harsh reality. And that is what I found so brilliant about Rafiki. It has this sugary and romantic feel, but, deep down, it's a harrowing social commentary on the backwardness of the patriarchal society present in Kenya (which has many values that were implemented by the British during colonization, let's not forget that), effectively making it much more impactful. The name itself is a jab into Kenyan society, as "rafiki" means "friend" in Swahili, which is the patronizing name that people use when referring to same-sex partners. Through this pink-dominated love story, Wanuri Kahiu asserts herself as a fresh new voice in the world, defiant of prejudices of any kind. This is truly a refreshing story that emanates a warmth, effectively breaking our hearts but also holding hope in it's beautiful soft light. This was the first African film that I ever saw and it was most definitely an incredible and fascinating experience to witness, mostly because this is a deliciously proud African film that breathes a breath of fresh air into us, holding a contagious young energy that invades us and moves us both to bliss and tears. It's a beautiful love story that is defiant in the most refreshing way, and I truly recommend it.