Kenyan award-winning director and filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu is set to have her latest project, ‘Look Both Ways’ on Netflix this August. She is the creator of the Afrobubblegum genre-fun, fierce, and frivolous black content that celebrates joy and hope. Although this upcoming film is a break from her established themes and tropes, her work thus far has boldly reflected the spirit of the genre.
The first film she wrote and directed was ‘From a Whisper’ in 2008. It is a story about an intelligence officer and a young, rebellious artist who both lose someone important in the 1998 twin bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Their commonality pushes them to confront their fears and forgive. It earned her five African Movie Academy Awards, including Best Director and Screenplay.
Then in 2009, she wrote and produced the science fiction film ‘Pumzi’. In the film’s dystopian future, decades after water wars have torn the world apart, East African survivors remain locked away in contained communities. But hope springs forth when a young woman in possession of a germinating seed struggles against the governing council to bring the plant to Earth’s ruined surface.
At the time, she told Wired that to produce the film she had to research classic 1950s films for ideas on futuristic sets and to understand the processes of matte painting they used compared to rear-screen projections created from indigenous African artwork.
“We already have a tradition of tapestries and functional art and things like that, that loan a backdrop for films,” Kahiu said.
‘Pumzi’ premiered at Sundance film festival and went on to win best short film at Cannes Independent Film Festival and the silver at Carthage Film Festival (Tunisia). It also earned Kahiu the ‘Citta di Venezia 2010’ award in Venice, Italy.
After some time, she released the highly contested but revolutionary LGBTQI+ film ‘Rafiki’. The movie that was banned in Kenya was a coming-of-age love story between two young women. When they fall in love, their safety becomes compromised, and they must fight to stay together against insular gossip, local politics, and burgeoning maturity. The film based on “Jambula Tree” an award-winning short story by Monica Arac de Nyeko, was the first Kenyan feature film to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival as part of the Official Un Certain Regard selection.
‘Look Both Ways’ a Netflix project
Formerly known as Plus/Minus, from a screenplay by April Prosser, Kahiu’s fourth project is going mainstream in more ways than one. Not only will the project be featured on a platform that is globally booming (having gained even more popularity during the pandemic), but the film will also star Riverdale’s (popular American Young adult series) Lili Reinhart. In directing this project, she is departing from everything we’ve seen from her and expect.
Reinhart’s character Natalie is an aspiring artist on the precipice of life the night before her college graduation. The story explores two possible paths she could take. In one reality, Natalie finds out she’s pregnant and remains in her hometown in Texas. Here she navigates the tricky waters of raising a child as a single parent while exploring ways of pursuing her dreams, as well. On the other hand, in the other reality, Natalie set off for Los Angeles in direct pursuit of becoming a professional artist.
In an interview with the Golden Globes, Kahiu said, “It is an incredible story about women’s resilience… On both sides, it is about women striving for excellence and that is what drew me to it. Either through motherhood or artistry, it is about women striving for excellence. That is the most important thing and that is the big takeaway and why I wanted to be part of the project.”
Alongside Reinhart, the drama will star Luke Wilson (Old School), David Corenswet (We Own This City), Danny Ramirez (Top Gun: Maverick), Nia Long (Life in A Year), Andrea Savage (Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe), Aisha Dee (The Bold Type) and more.
It was recently announced that Kahiu will also direct ‘The Thing About Jellyfish’, an adaptation of Ali Benjamin’s 2015 novel of the same name. The project will star Stranger Thing’s Millie Bobby Brown and will be produced by Reese Witherspoon along with prominent Hollywood producer Bruna Papandrea, known for her work on ‘Big Little Lies’, ‘The Undoing’, ‘The Nightingale’ and more.
Look Both Ways will be streaming on Netflix from August 17th.