Kenyan Identity My Foot

Now, I go to many filmmaking forums in Kenya, and they are too many for a film industry that most people prefer calling a ‘sector’ because of how small it is. In almost all of them, I hear people decrying the lack of ‘Kenyan Identity’ in Kenyan films. To support their claims, they often point to West African films as benchmarks of how we should go about ’embracing our culture and putting in on screen’. This has over the years escalated to a point where we have labeled our filmmakers ‘copy cats’ for notoriously ‘imitating the West’ instead of showing the Kenyan way of life.

Begs the question, what is the Kenyan way of life? Remember a few years back when the government tried to create a national dress? And all the top designers in this country worked on that project and we still unanimously rejected those clothes? Or the never-ending debates about Kenyan music and how the need to have one distinct flavour that sounds ‘Kenyan’, like Tanzania’s Bongo Flavour? When all these efforts crumble, we start accusing each other of being disunited. Moreover, we do this so noisily our neighbours don’t even need to eavesdrop. We just don’t seem to appreciate our culture, do we?

The question should be; why try to get Kenyans to rally behind one cultural idea even after all the lessons we have leanrt through the years? You can never force any particular culture down Kenyans’ throats. We are a very diverse nation, socially and intellectually, among others, such that no  matter which style you decide to do your stuff, you will have your niche fans. Hence Kapuka, Genge, Afro Fusion, tecno, trance, dubstep, house, Taarab, chackacha all have their fans. Same applies to clothing styles, films and everything else. In fact, when I try to think about one thing that Kenyans have embraced wholeheartedly I can only come up with MPESA. It is folly for anyone to lump Kenyans in a box, label it and proceed to dish out what you have decided is interesting and meaningful to their lives.

Films, being another art form, is basically a slice of life, a cross-section of how we live every day which in it’s subjective nature can only give us one person’s point of view. With more and more Kenyans being born and raised in the cities, be ready for film directors who want to make films about what they are familiar with; city life. If that is too western for you, why don’t you just get out of that western vehicle you are riding in, throw away your western clothes cover yourself in banana leaves and run home? Furthermore, going by the unscientific surveys carried out for free by Kenyan filmmakers, Kenyans do not like their own films. Therefore, presenting your work as ‘Kenyan’ might actually work against you, right?   Until we embrace ‘urban’ as another culture in Kenya, precisely one that unites Kenyans from all corners of the country, we will always have this debate, and I’m sick of it!

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Thoughts on Theatre and Life from Kenya

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