The first time I heard that the Kenyan version of the Coca Cola advert that launched the brand’s new signature, ‘taste the feeling’ had been changed to suit ‘family morals’ in Kenya, I just thought that it was one of those things Kenyan’s joke about when they have not heard from the Kenya Film Classification Board chair, Ezekiel Mutua, in a while. I was so shocked when I later watched the ad and in deed, the kissing was gone!
Ezekiel Mutual also cancelled Project X in the hope of keeping Kenya clean from ‘demonic’ influences. I salute his good intentions but I am sure that deep down his heart, he knows that is not the way to bring back the Kenyan youth to the straight and narrow – whatever that means to him.
I was supposed to have written this piece about a week ago but I could not because I was trying to find out where Mutua’s words truly lie. Now, if you are just landing from the moon, the Films, Stage Plays and Publications Act draft bill was recently released and to put everything in a nutshell, the draft bill gives the police power over creatives – to arrest and inspect production houses then the bill if passed into law will police against ‘bad content’ on TV that filmmakers in the country or playwrights might be thinking of in their heads.
The reason why I did not write this piece a week ago as I should have was because following a protest by creatives in the country, KFCB chair held an art stakeholders’ meeting at the Nairobi National Museum and Ezekiel Mutual gave his word to withdraw the draft bill. But apparently, Mutua was in Mombasa last week to publicize the bill he said he would withdraw and not only that, he denied that he said he would withdraw the bill on national TV.
So here I am.
As someone who has worked in the country’s film sector for almost half a decade now, I think I know a few things that the KFCB chair should begin with apart from what his mind is currently set on.
Mutua should have first pushed for a bill that puts structures together for the creative industries in this country. Serious structures that understand their role and which therefore are practical.
The reason why young people in this country prefer Nigerian music and adore music from South Africa is because these two countries have creative/cultural industries that have actually made a presence on the continent of Africa and in the world. Just a brief research will tell you how much these two industries are worth.
Now, the creative sector in the country is pitiable. How much is it worth? How much is its potential? Are we able to quantify? And I am not confused; I know that there is not film industry in this country. Mutua, in my opinion, should have made a serious presence by first putting together infrastructure that actually work to help grow the sector. Otherwise, I do not even know what film industry he is trying to regulate with that draft bill.
2.The Kenyan film sector is still struggling and crippling it risks curtailing some very important bits of immaterial culture
When it is cheaper to fly your crew to another country for a shoot than it is getting a scene on Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi, I think that KFCB should be looking inwards. I know a couple of filmmakers who opt to just shoot elsewhere instead of having to play this back and forth game with KFCB that ends up taking more than half the shoe-string budget the filmmakers had set aside for the production. Basically what I am trying to say is that KFCB should get in touch with filmmakers and other creatives in the country. That way, they will know whether or not charging 100 shillings per minute to classify a film is reasonable or not. Or having filmmakers pay for those licenses whose names I have forgotten now for a sector that is hardly there is something doable.
3. No one can police morals
I am back to where I started. I do not know why KFCB is giving itself the tough job of being God’s regent on earth. If pornography is the ball of contention here, then I think that this is a legal issue on a level that I do not understand. But if Mutua wants to ban films because people kiss in the stories or chat while in bed, he needs to get his bag ready to fly to Hollywood, California and start by ordering arrests on all those filmmakers. Then fly to Televisa’s headquarters and stop those actors from trying to swallow each other. While still in Mexico, he can also pass by TV Azteca’s headquarters and give them a piece of his mind. Then pass through Nigeria and Ghana on his way back home. Then he might also have to recall all the Mills and Boons books… What I am trying to say is that, somehow, kids will see kissing on TV. They will see people smoking and drinking alcohol. And if at all morality in this country is a cause of concern, then he should get the proper people to actually sit down with him and look for the lost direction otherwise, we might have to go back to novelist Oscar Wilde and see what he defines as the role of an artist.
Basically, I am just saying, can we at least first have an industry, Ezekiel Mutua, sir?
I have a persistent thirst to know things and that has pushed me to read a lot of books and ask questions including stopping strangers on the road to ask them questions about the inspiration behind their hairstyles… Apart from the madness, I am generally a very bubbly, reasonable and energetic person.