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Wanuri Kahiu

We need both serious and fun art if we want to capture the full range of human experiences.

Acclaimed Writer & Director of Rafiki | Co-Founder of AFROBUBBLEGUM

Contact Wanuri For Booking
Wanuri Kahiu | Acclaimed Writer & Director of Rafiki | Co-Founder of AFROBUBBLEGUM
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Acclaimed artist and filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu shatters convention around African representation—by celebrating art that’s made for the joy of it. Kahiu creates work in her own genre, called “AfroBubbleGum”: an aesthetic mash-up of Marvel’s Black Panther and a candy store. In talks, she shows why “fun, fierce and frivolous African art” is a political act: seeing African citizens as healthy, financially stable, and fun-loving shows their humanity in refreshing, necessary ways.  

“When I present my work somewhere, someone will always ask, "What's so important about it? How does it deal with real African issues like war, poverty, devastation or AIDS?" And it doesn't...It's just fun, fierce and frivolous.”

— -Wanuri Kahiu

“My work is about Nairobi pop bands that want to go to space or about seven-foot-tall robots that fall in love. It’s nothing incredibly important. It’s just fun,” says filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. And that particular, necessary attention to fun has landed her some amazing new projects—like teaming up with Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown to adapt and direct the celebrated YA novel The Thing About Jellyfish as a feature film, produced by Reese Witherspoon. And if that weren’t enough, acclaimed Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor and Kahiu are co-writing the upcoming series adaptation of sci-fi legend Olivia Butler’s Wild Seed, set to star Academy Award-winner Viola Davis.

 

In her vibrant, optimistic talks, Kahiu explains why showing fun is a political act in African film, when happiness is so often seen as a privilege. It’s important to find this balance in representing African stories, she says. We’re so used to narratives out of Africa being about poverty, war and devastation. Kahiu asks us to rethink the value of “all that is unserious,” and to make and support art that captures the full range of human experiences.

 

Kahiu is the co-founder of AFROBUBBLEGUM, a media company that creates “fun, fierce and frivolous African art.” Her second feature film, Rafiki, was selected for the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it screened to acclaim. She produced the TV documentary For Our Land about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai for MNET, a pan-African cable station. Her science-fiction short Pumzi premiered at Sundance, and won Best Short Film at Cannes. Her first feature film, From a Whisper, based on the real events surrounding the 1998 twin bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, won five awards at the African Movie Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.

Speech Topics

The Arts
African Art That’s Fun, Frivolous, and Fierce AfroBubbleGum
We’re so used to narratives out of Africa being about war, poverty and devastation, says filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. What happens when we disrupt the expected narratives with stories of fun, whimsy, and romance? In this wonderfully buoyant talk, Kahiu introduces her self-invented genre of “AfroBubbleGum”—African art that’s vibrant, lighthearted, and pointedly without a political agenda. As she explains, showing characters who are happy, in love, financially stable, and healthy is an irreverent way of telling African stories, by virtue of how infrequently they are told. “Fun is political, because imagine if we have images of Africans who were vibrant and loving and thriving and living a beautiful, vibrant life,” she says. “What would we think of ourselves then? Would we think that maybe we’re worthy of more happiness? Would we think of our shared humanity through our shared joy?” Drawing on her love of science fiction and pop culture, Kahiu will show your audience why it is important to go against the grain to tell stories that complement, and sometimes even contradict the conventional stories we tell. If we do that—rethink the value of all that is “unserious”—we can learn to capture and see the full range of human experiences, in art, and in each other.