By Linda Muriuki
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan filmmakers have urged authorities to revamp a 1960s law that threatens them with jail if they do not pay for a license and imposes other restrictions they say are stifling their resurgent industry.
Directors and producers poured onto social media this week to protest after the regulator printed adverts in newspapers reminding them of the terms of the legislation, which dates back to British colonial rule.
The Kenya Film Classification Board – which has to check scripts before filming begins under the law and classifies movies – said it had placed the ads as part of a crackdown on unregistered producers and makers of pornography.
But the notices touched a raw nerve in a growing industry that has expanded alongside the growth of new media.
“It is a colonial law, created to keep Africans from making films and expressing themselves, so it is not in keeping with the times, it is faulty, we need to fight it, it has to be modified,” veteran director, producer and writer Cajetan Boy said on Friday.
The classification body’s chief executive, Ezekiel Mutua, said it planned to step up checks that film were properly licensed.
“We are now coming to a crackdown, we are starting raids and it’s not because we want to criminalize creativity. It’s because there are bad apples within the industry,” he told Reuters.
“AN OLD LAW”
The body had a duty to protect the public, he added. “Films must reflect the dominant values of the people. Films must promote morality in society.”
But filmmakers said the restrictions had not kept track with changing tastes and technology.
Last month the board banned “Rafiki”, a film about two women falling in love, on the grounds that it promoted lesbianism – in violation of another colonial-era law.
“It’s archaic … it’s an old law. We need to now sit down and look at the situation and circumstances that are now in 2018 and see how best that law can work for us,” director David Gitonga said.
His latest film, “Disconnect” is a romantic comedy about young Kenyans exploring relationships and sexuality in Nairobi.
“I’m all for paying for our licenses but let’s look at what are we paying for. You know that young upcoming kid who wants to make a film with his phone, let him be free to go shoot even in the city,” he added.
The law, which was created just before Kenya gained independence at the end of 1963, allows the government to “control the making and exhibition” of audio visual material including films.
Kenya’s film industry was worth $2 billion in 2016, up from 600 million in 2007, according to a study by the Kenya Film Commission.
(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Maggie Fick and Andrew Heavens)