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Wanuri Kahiu: All About Her Life, Art, and Achievements

Wanuri Kahiu is a Kenyan filmmaker, author, and producer known for her interesting works that have inspired many individuals across the world.

With her unwavering passion for storytelling and unique perspective, Kahiu has been catapulted to the front of the creative industry, earning her critical global credit.

Kahiu has never been shy to push beyond societal norms as seen in her film Rafiki (friend), which some people consider conflicting, especially with Kenya’s ethics.

Let’s explore deeper the extraordinary life, art, aspirations, and achievements of Wanuri Kahiu, that have shaped her into a trailblazer in the film industry today.

Profile Summary of Wanuri Kahiu

  • Full Name: Wanuri Kahiu
  • Age: 43 years
  • Nationality: Kenyan
  • Education: University of Warwick, University of Los Angeles, and University of California
  • Occupation: Filmmaker
  • Years active: 2003-present
  • Net Worth: $1-5 million

Wanuri Kahiu’s Early Life and Background

Kahiu began her creative journey at 16 years of age in Nairobi, Kenya, where she was born and raised.

She described her family background as very conservative, with her mother as a pediatrician and her father as a business owner.

Even though her family’s professional background differed from hers, she developed a deep desire for filmmaking through reading books and storytelling.

She achieved her bachelor’s degree in management science in 2001 from the University of Warwick.

However, because she had developed a deep passion for filmmaking, she opted to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film production and directing from the University of California and later went to the Los Angeles School of Film, Theater, and Television where she honed and developed her unique skills that have become her trademark today.

Kahiu who is a mother of two, stated in an interview with Variety Magazine that her film, Look Both Ways (which portrays a girl who lives in two parallel worlds) is an illustration of her own life story in which she recalls when she discovered she was expecting and her life took parallel directions.

The experiences she had during motherhood and her desire to pursue other interests led her to believe in multiple lives and parallel existences

Kahui’s Creative Journey And Achievements

Kahiu’s career in Filmmaking began in 2003 after taking an internship at F. Gary’s office where she received the opportunity to work on the production of The Italian Job film. 

Through the opening, Gary encouraged her to keep her eye on the bigger picture and on details.

Her creative journey continued to soar while working behind the scenes in The Sparks that Unites documentary film directed by Phillip Noyce.

In an interview, she disclosed that while working with Noyce, they developed a close friendship.

She said Noyce emphasized to her the significance of attaining local success in storytelling before becoming an international narrator.

She, therefore, began her trailblazing journey in film directing Ras Star film, the story about a Teenage called Amani living with her uncle who later got involved in criminal activities.

Kahiu’s second major feature film From a Whisper explored the aftermath of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi.

The film reaped momentous acclamation, enabling her to receive 12 nominations and 5 awards at the Africa Movie Academy.

Her movie was also nominated in other categories including the Best Picture Award, Best Screenplay Award, and Best Director Award, and won three. 

Ultimately, the achievements of this film propelled her onto the international stage, where she continued to create thought-provoking, but aspiring movies in the industry.

In 2009, she pushed further creating a short science fiction film, Pumzi, a story that challenges African representation and pessimism.

The film, which premiered at Sundance, received the Best Short award at Cannes Independent Film Festival and also won Silver at Carthage Film.

Another of Kahiu’s most notable achievements came in 2018 after she released Rafiki feature film.

It is a powerful and tender love story Kahiu produced in support of the South African production company, Big World Cinema. The story is about two young women in love.

 However, her film was perceived as going against the societal norms mostly in Kenya, hence faced significant backlash.

Rafiki was eventually banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board for promoting same-sex relationships which is contrary to dominant Kenyan values.

Nonetheless, the film received global recognition, airing at Canned film festivals and becoming the first Kenyan film to premiere at the prestigious festival, in return grossing Kahiu a place in cinema history.

Her other major films include The wooden Camel, a children’s book about a boy dreaming of riding a camel but the family sells the camel to live.

Another is Rusties, which isabout a young girl and traffic-directing automaton.

Her other creative works include for our land, wild seed (film adaptation), once on this island, and the things about this jellyfish (filmadaptation).

Kahiu’s Challenges in The Film Industry

Even though Wanuri Kahiu met immense praise for her work, she has faced her fair share of challenges despite her contribution to the film industry. 

After the premiere of Rafiki, Kahiu received hateful messages and harassment from various people mostly from social media and face-to-face threats.

Following the ban of Rafiki, she nevertheless refused to give and instead sued the film regulatory board saying the decision infringed on her constitutional rights to freedom of expression.

The high court responded to her lawsuit by temporarily lifting the ban for seven days to allow the film to qualify for an Oscar nomination.

Despite the seven-day reprieve granted by the court, the film remained banned during the litigation.

As a result, Kahiu sought aid from other countries, but that did not bear fruit.

The artist is renowned for being the first to bring such a lawsuit in a Kenyan court.

In 2020, the high court ruled, ruled in favor of the Film Classification body supporting its decision on the ban.

Kahiu through her Twitter account expressed sadness saying it was a blow to freedom of expression and vowed to continue fighting laws she believes have no place in Kenyan society.

Kahiu’s Recent And Upcoming Projects

Her exceptional work has not gone unnoticed coupled with many awards and praises of her career.

In 2022, the Kenyan film director made a grand entrance onto the Hollywood scene with the Look Both Ways film airing on Netflix and has received great support from Kenyan and internationally.

Her upcoming projects include Wild Seed, a television version of Octavia Butler’s novel.

Kahiu is co-working on this movie together with multi-talented stars such as Nnedi Okorafor and Viola Davis.

Kenyalogue Contributor

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