Kenya: Film regulator bans screening of Fifty Shades of Grey

The recent ban of the film, Fifty Shades of Grey, by the Kenya Film Classification Board ostensibly on obscenity grounds has angered and dismayed many Kenyan film enthusiasts. This is the fifth film to be banned in Kenya in the recent past, and is deeply worrying considering it comes just after the recently enacted Security Laws (Amendment) Act, which also introduced broad and vague grounds for the banning of photographs and broadcasts.

“The continued banning of certain films in Kenya without making known detailed reasons for such censorship is a big blow to artistic expression and a clear violation of artistic freedom guaranteed by the constitution of Kenya,” said Henry Maina, Regional Director, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

The Fifty Shades of Grey film was banned (rated as ‘restricted’) on Tuesday 10th February 2015. The film was scheduled to premier on the 14th Feb 2015 in Kenya.

According to a statement issued by Bishop Jackson Kosgei, the Chairperson of the Kenya Film Classification Board, the film was restricted because of “prolonged and explicit sexual scenes depicting women as sexual slaves.”

It is the artist’s role to challenge and provoke, sometimes in a way that may offend, and artistic expression is protected as an important aspect of the right to freedom of expression. While under international standards, states can limit freedom of expression in the interest of public order and public morals, a number of important factors must be examined. These include such considerations as whether the expression was in fact harmful, whether the concept of public morals was not applied in a discriminatory fashion and whether the sanction is proportionate to aim pursued.

Other films banned in Kenya include the Wolf of Wall Street, Stories of Our Lives, Movie 43, and Paradise Love. The common reasons provided for banning these films is that they contain explicit images of sexual activity, obscenity, indecency, and use of illegal drugs and alcohol.

The Kenya Film Classification Board is a state-owned corporation whose main mandate is to examine and classify films meant for public exhibition. The classification seeks to ensure films conform to the national aspirations, moral standards and the protection of children.

ARTICLE 19 therefore:

  • Asks the Board to review the classification of the film to ensure that it is not publicly exhibited to children, but available to adults.
  • Calls for a review of the 1930 Films and Stage Plays Act, Cap 222 Laws of Kenya to ensure it conforms to the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and to Kenya’s international human rights obligations. The Act’s penalties are disproportionate and in some ways it unduly limits freedom of expression and media freedom; and
  • Asks the Board to ensure greater transparency in its decision making process by involving film makers, distributors and public, and make public all its detailed decisions banning any film.